Income Research Paper Series
Working income tax benefit recipients in Canada

by Jiaosheng He and Dan Fox

Release date: April 16, 2019

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Andrew Heisz, Jim Brennan, Sharanjit Uppal, François Pagé and Dominique Pinard for advice and comments on earlier versions of this paper. Any errors are the responsibility of the authors.

Introduction

The Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) is a federal program that provides a refundable tax benefit to working Canadians with low income (Canada Revenue Agency, 2018a). Similar programs exist in other countries, for example, the U.S. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the U.K. Working Tax Credit. Studies have been undertaken to investigate the effect of such programs on the living standards, employment, and income of low-income people.Note 

This paper provides a brief portrait of the Canadian WITB and WITB recipients using 2014 tax data. It first presents the main components of the WITB program. It then describes WITB recipients from demographic and income perspectives. Finally, the paper examines the impact of the WITB on low-income rates and low-income gap ratios.

Description of the WITB

Both single individuals and families can obtain the WITB. Moreover, WITB recipients with disabilities can receive an additional benefit. The program is a federal initiative; however, provinces and territories can vary the design of the WITB to fit in with their own income security systems. As of 2014, Alberta, British Columbia, Nunavut and Quebec had modified their WITB benefit structures (Appendix 1).

Low-income working persons can claim the WITB for themselves or for their familyNote  on their annual income tax return provided their employment income is at least $3,000 and they meet the eligibility criteria. A person is eligible for the WITB if they are:

A person is not eligible for the WITB if they are:

In 2014, the WITB gave taxpayers a benefit of $0.25 for every dollar earned above $3,000, up to the maximum benefit of $998 for single individuals and $1,813 for families. For single individuals, this benefit was then reduced at a rate of $0.15 per dollar earned above $11,332 such that by income of $17,986 the WITB was reduced to $0. For families the benefit was reduced at the same rate ($0.15) for every dollar of income above $15,649, returning to zero for incomes above $27,236 (Table 1 and Chart 1). Thus, the WITB for families covers a wider working income range and has higher benefit limits than the WITB for single individuals. Alberta, British Columbia, Nunavut and Quebec had WITB programs with similar dynamics (Appendix 1).


Table 1
Working Income Tax Benefit parameters, Canada excluding British Columbia, Alberta, Nunavut and Quebec, 2014
Table summary
This table displays the results of Working Income Tax Benefit parameters. The information is grouped by Family type (appearing as row headers), Benefit rate (percent), Minimum income qualified for benefit, Minimum income for maximum benefit, Maximum benefit, Phase-out rate (percent) and Phase-out range (appearing as column headers).
Family type Benefit rate (percent) Minimum income qualified for benefit Minimum income for maximum benefit Maximum benefit Phase-out rate (percent) Phase-out range
Beginning income Ending income
Single individual 25 3,000 6,992 998 15 11,332 17,986
Family 25 3,000 10,252 1,813 15 15,649 27,236

Chart 1 WITB for single individuals and families, Canada excluding British Columbia, Alberta, Nunavut and Quebec, 2014

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Employment Income (dollars) (appearing as row headers), Working Income Tax Benefits (dollars) (appearing as column headers).
Employment Income (dollars) Working Income Tax Benefits (dollars)
Single
3,000 0
6,992 998
11,332 998
17,986 0
Family
3,000 0
10,252 1,813
15,649 1,813
27,236 0

This paper describes WITB benefits received by Canadian tax fliers using data from the 2014 T1 Family File (T1FF). The T1FF is an annual income dataset produced using administrative records sourced mainly from the Canada Revenue Agency, including the T1 Income Tax and Benefit return and the Canada Child Tax Benefit administrative file. The population covered by T1FF includes all tax filers and their dependents, or about 95% of the total estimated population in Canada in 2014. It covers provinces and territories, and includes individuals living in collective dwellings and on Indian reserves. The T1FF data is built on the basis of the census family concept, which classifies people into three family groups: couple (married or common-law) families with or without children, lone-parent (male or female) families with one or more children, and persons not in census families (single individuals) who are living alone, or in a household but who are not part of a couple or lone-parent family (Statistics Canada, 2017).

About 1.5 million workers received the WITB in 2014, with a total payout of nearly 1.2 billion dollars (Statistics Canada, Income Statistics Division, T1 Family File 2014). The average benefit thus was $810.

In the 2018 federal budget, the WITB was renamed the Canada Workers Benefit (CWB). The CWB will enhance the maximum benefit and increase the income level at which the benefit is phased out. Under the CWB, single workers whose annual incomes are less than $24,111 will receive a maximum of $1,355, while couples and single parents with annual family incomes below $36,483 will receive a maximum benefit of $2,335. The Canada Revenue Agency will also begin to automatically determine whether tax filers are eligible for the benefit, negating the need for tax filers to apply for the benefit (Minister of Finance, 2018). Since the CWB won't come into effect until 2019, this paper's focus of analysis is on the WITB.

WITB recipient rates and benefit amounts vary across provinces and territories

The WITB recipient rate is defined as the percentage of tax filers who are WITB recipients. In 2014, nearly 1.5 million out of 26.9 million Canadian tax filers received WITB benefits. This translates into a WITB recipient rate of 5.4%. Figures for the individual provinces and territories are presented in Chart 2. Seven provinces (Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia) had WITB recipient rates between 5.0% and 6.0%. Three provinces and one territory had WITB recipient rates below the national rate by at least one percentage point: Newfoundland and Labrador (3.5%), Saskatchewan (4.4%), Alberta (4.4%) and Yukon (4.5%).

The average WITB benefit amount received by WITB recipients was $810 nationally. Quebec ($850), Ontario ($820) and British Columbia ($810) had average WITB amounts higher than or equal to the national average. The average benefit amounts for the rest of the 10 provinces and territories were all lower than the national average.

Chart 2 WITB recipient rate and average of WITB, Canada, provinces and territories, 2014

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2 Rate and Average, calculated using percent and doallrs units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Rate Average
percent dollars
Canada 5.4 810
N.L. 3.5 700
P.E.I. 5.1 740
N.S. 5.1 770
N.B. 5.0 730
Que. 5.1 850
Ont. 6.0 820
Man. 5.7 770
Sask. 4.4 770
Alta. 4.4 770
B.C. 5.9 810
Y.T. 4.5 740
N.W.T. 7.0 740
Nvt. 15.3 490

The WITB program was set up quite differently in Nunavut, resulting in different recipient rates and average benefits than other provinces and territories (Chart 2). In 2014, the minimum income needed to qualify for the benefit was $6,000 in Nunavut, twice the national threshold of $3,000. The benefit phased in slowly at a rate of 5.1% of earnings in contrast to the national rate of 25%. Nunavut's maximum benefit of $640 for a single person was lower than the standard maximum benefit of $998, and it was reached at a higher income level ($18,549) than that for Canada ($6,992). Moreover, the benefit ended at a higher income ($37,195) (Appendix 1), over twice as high as the income for Canada ($17,986) (Table 1). The net result of these differences was that Nunavut's WITB recipient rate was the highest (15.3%) while its average benefit was the lowest ($490).

WITB recipient rates decline with age

The WITB recipient rate was highest for tax filers aged 19 to 29 and decreased with age (except for those aged 18 and under who were generally not eligible for WITB). They declined from a high of 13.2% for those aged 19 to 29 to a low of 1.2% for tax filers aged 60 and older (Chart 3). The rate for those aged 19 to 24 was higher than the rate for those aged 25 to 29 (15.9% versus 10.0%).

It is noteworthy that there were 1,750 WITB recipients under the age of 19 — a WITB recipient rate of 0.3% for these young individuals. Based on the benefit configuration, individuals under the age of 19 at the end of 2014 could still be eligible to apply for WITB if they were living with a spouse or common-law partner in the year (Canada Revenue Agency, 2018b).

Chart 3 WITB recipient rate by age group, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 3 
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Age group (appearing as row headers), percent (appearing as column headers).
Age group percent
0 to 18 0.3
19 to 29 13.2
30 to 39 6.5
40 to 49 5.4
50 to 59 4.4
60 and over 1.2
All 5.4

The WITB recipient rate for males is higher than for females nationally

In 2014, 732,910 male tax filers received the WITB, while a slightly lower number of female tax filers (728,980) received the benefit; the recipient rate for males (5.7%) was higher than that for females (5.2%) (Chart 4). At the provincial and territorial level, higher male than female WITB recipient rates were found in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and the three territories. There were higher female than male WITB recipient rates in the Atlantic provinces and Alberta. WITB recipient rates were similar between males and females in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Nunavut had the highest rates for both males and females (17.7% versus 13.0%).Note 

Chart 4 WITB recipient rate by gender, Canada, provinces and territories, 2014

Data table for Chart 4 
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4 Male and Female, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Male Female
percent
Canada 5.7 5.2
N.L. 2.8 4.1
P.E.I. 4.5 5.6
N.S. 4.6 5.6
N.B. 4.4 5.6
Que. 5.6 4.5
Ont. 6.4 5.6
Man. 6.2 5.2
Sask. 4.4 4.4
Alta. 4.1 4.6
B.C. 5.9 5.9
Y.T. 4.6 4.4
N.W.T. 8.1 5.9
Nvt. 17.7 13.0

Lone-parent families, especially female lone-parent families, have higher WITB recipient rates

About 1.4 million out of the 15.7 million Canadian families (8.9%) received the WITB in 2014. Different family types had different benefit recipient rates. Lone-parent families showed the highest WITB recipient rate (20.7%), followed by a lower rate of 8.2% for couple families and 7.0% for non-family persons (Chart 5). The average benefit amount for a census family in which at least one family member received the WITB was $850, higher than that for non-family persons. Couple families had an average benefit amount of $910, while lone-parent families and non-family persons showed lower amounts of $900 and $720, respectively.

Chart 5 WITB recipient rate and average WITB by family type, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 5 
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5 Rate and Average, calculated using percent and dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Rate Average
percent dollars
Couple family 8.2 910
Lone-parent family 20.7 900
Non-family person 7.0 720
All 8.9 850

For Canada as a whole, 290,790 lone-parent families received the WITB; 84% of lone parent families were female-headed, whereas 16% were male headed. All provinces and territories had a similar pattern in which female lone-parent families accounted for a predominant share of WITB recipients—from 73% in Quebec to 88% in the Atlantic provinces.

Female lone-parent families showed higher WITB recipient rates (21.3%) than male lone-parent families (17.9%) at the Canada level (Chart 6). All provinces except for Quebec and the three territories followed the national pattern. Prince Edward Island had the highest female lone-parent family WITB recipient rate (31.0%), while the second-highest rate (29.0%) was in New Brunswick.

Chart 6 WITB recipient rate of male and female lone-parent family, Canada, provinces and territories, 2014

Data table for Chart 6 
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6 Male and Female, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Male Female
percent
Canada 17.9 21.3
N.L. 12.9 22.0
P.E.I. 20.5 31.0
N.S. 18.9 27.6
N.B. 18.0 28.6
Que. 16.8 15.5
Ont. 19.3 22.7
Man. 19.5 21.5
Sask. 16.1 20.5
Alta. 14.5 20.4
B.C. 19.7 23.9
Y.T. 16.6 15.4
N.W.T. 29.1 21.7
Nvt. 34.7 28.3

WITB recipient rates rise with employment income up to a threshold

Eligibility for the WITB is dependent on the level of employment incomeNote  earned, although, even within lower earnings bands, recipient rates will be less than 100% due to non-eligibility or failure to apply for WITB. Based on the standard configuration of the program in 2014, the benefit rate of single persons can be calculated for five employment income groups: less than $3,000; $3,000 to $6,991; $6,992 to $11,331; $11,332 to $17,986; and $17,987 and more. Except for the first and last income group, WITB recipient rates increased steadily with employment income: 19.0%, 28.3% and 30.2%, respectively (Chart 7). The average WITB amounts varied across employment income groups, from a low of $540 for those who earned between $3,000 and $6,991 to a high of $1,050 for those who earned between $6,992 and $11,331.

It is possible to receive the WITB in certain circumstances (i.e., when employment income is less than $3,000 or greater than or equal to $17,987). A small percentage (0.5%) of tax filers received the benefit even though their employment income was less than $3,000. About 2% of tax filers whose employment income was $17,987 or more received the WITB.Note 

Chart 7 WITB recipient rate and average WITB by employment income, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 7 
Data table for Chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 7 Rate and Average, calculated using percent and dollars units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Rate Average
percent dollars
Less than 3,000 0.5 650
3,000-6,991 19.0 540
6,992-11,331 28.3 1,050
11,332-17,986 30.2 870
17,987 and more 1.9 620

The impact of the WITB on low-income rates and low-income gap ratios is higher for WITB recipients than for the general population

In T1FF, low-income Individuals are identified based on the census family low income measure after tax (CFLIM-AT). The principle of the CFLIM methodology is that a person is in low income if their census family income is less than 50% of the median family income, adjusting for family size.Note  The low-income rate refers to the proportion of tax filers and their dependants with adjusted after-tax census family income falling below the CFLIM-AT threshold, while the low-income gap ratio describes the percentage shortfall of income below the CFLIM-AT threshold.Note 

In this section, the study examines the impact of the WITB on the low-income rate and gap ratio by computing what the rate and gap ratio would have been if no WITB income was received. This provides a simple way of accounting for how important the WITB is to reducing the size of the low-income population, but it should be acknowledged that this does not take into account any behavioural responses to the WITB.

WITB recipients had a higher after-tax low-income rate and lower gap ratio compared to the total population. The after-tax low-income rate was 56.3% for WITB recipients and 17.7% for the total population only (Table 2). The low-income gap ratio was 28.5% and 39.0%, respectively.

Excluding WITB from income, the low-income rate would have been slightly higher, at 17.8% for the population and 58.3% among WITB recipients. Likewise, the low-income gap ratio would have been slightly larger if WITB were excluded from income.

Research has shown that lone-parent families, in particular female lone-parent families, were more susceptible to being in low income (Murphy et al., 2013; Heisz and McLeod, 2004). According to the CFLIM-AT, the low-income rate for persons in female lone-parent families was 42.2%. Excluding the WITB, the rate was 42.9%. The low-income rate among WITB receiving female headed lone parent families was 53.7%, and 57.2% not including the WITB benefits. Low-income gaps ratio for these groups are also higher excluding WITB from income. The provinces and territories had a similar pattern with respect to the impact of the WITB on their low-income rates and gap ratio (see Appendix 2).

The modest impact of the WITB on the after-tax low-income rate and gap ratio can be explained by examining the gap ratio more closely. A gap ratio of 39 percent would suggest that an average single low-income individual would have a low-income gap of $7,679 (39% of the CFLIM-AT threshold of $19,689). Thus, the WITB (which has a maximum benefit of $998) would have a modest effect on the after-tax low-income rate and gap ratio.


Table 2
After-tax low income rate and average after-tax low income gap ratio, Canada, 2014
Table summary
This table displays the results of After-tax low income rate and average after-tax low income gap ratio After-tax low income rate, Average after-tax low income gap ratio, Including WITB, Excluding WITB and Difference, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
After-tax low income rate Average after-tax low income gap ratio
Including WITB Excluding WITB Difference Including WITB Excluding WITB Difference
percent
Total population 17.7 17.8 0.1 39.0 39.5 0.5
WITB population 56.3 58.3 2.0 28.5 30.9 2.4
Female lone-parent family 42.2 42.9 0.7 39.9 40.2 0.3
WITB female lone-parent family 53.7 57.2 3.5 24.8 26.6 1.8

Conclusion

This paper uses the 2014 T1FF data to profile the WITB from demographic and income perspectives, and examines the impact of the benefit on the after-tax low-income rates and low-income gap ratios. Of all Canadian tax filers, 5.4% received the WITB. Only Nunavut showed a much higher rate, which was due to the unique design of the WITB in that territory. For Canada as a whole, the average benefit was $810 for individual WITB recipients and $850 at the family level. Young adults and those who were lone-parent families, especially female lone-parent families, were more likely to receive the WITB. Looking at the WITB in terms of employment income showed that those whose employment income ranged between $11,332 and $17,986 had the highest benefit recipient rate.

This study also looks at the impact of the WITB on after-tax low-income rates and low-income gap ratios by including and excluding the WITB from the income calculation. The calculations suggest that the impact of the WITB on the low-income rate and the gap ratio was small, mainly because WITB recipients had income that placed them well below the low-income measure threshold.

Appendices



Appendix 1

Table A.1
Working Income Tax Benefit parameters, British Columbia, Alberta, Nunavut and Quebec, 2014
Table summary
This table displays the results of Working Income Tax Benefit parameters. The information is grouped by Province and territory/family type (appearing as row headers), Benefit rate (percent), Minimum income qualified for benefit, Minimum income for maximum benefit, Maximum benefit, Phase-out rate (percent) and Phase-out range (appearing as column headers).
Province and territory/family type Benefit rate (percent) Minimum income qualified for benefit Minimum income for maximum benefit Maximum benefit Phase-out rate (percent) Phase-out range
Beginning income Ending income
British Columbia
Single person 20.4 4,750 10,662 1,206 16.5 12,411 19,720
Family 20.4 4,750 14,132 1,914 16.5 16,728 28,328
Alberta
Single person 20 2,760 8,210 1,090 15 11,872 19,139
Family 20 2,760 10,935 1,635 15 16,189 27,089
Nunavut
Single person 5.1 6,000 18,549 640 4.1 21,585 37,195
Family 10.2 6,000 18,549 1,280 8.2 27,521 43,131
Quebec
Single person 20.5 2,400 10,286 1,616.63 20 11,988.90 20,072.05
Couple with no eligible dependent 20.5 3,600 15,914 2,524.37 20 18,408.80 31,030.65
Single parent 12 2,400 10,286 946.32 20 12,024.60 16,756.20
Couple with eligible dependent 8 3,600 15,914 985.12 20 18,488.80 23,414.40


Appendix 2

Table A.2
After-tax low-income rate and average after-tax low-income gap ratio, Canada, provinces and territories, 2014
Table summary
This table displays the results of After-tax low-income rate and average after-tax low-income gap ratio After-tax low-income rate, Average after-tax low income gap ratio, Including WITB, Excluding WITB and Difference, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
After-tax low-income rate Average after-tax low income gap ratio
Including WITB Excluding WITB Difference Including WITB Excluding WITB Difference
percent
Total population
Canada 17.7 17.8 0.1 39.0 39.5 0.5
Newfoundland and Labrador 15.7 15.8 0.1 33.4 33.7 0.3
Prince Edward Island 17.0 17.1 0.1 34.1 34.6 0.5
Nova Scotia 19.1 19.2 0.1 37.8 38.2 0.4
New Brunswick 18.5 18.7 0.2 35.3 35.8 0.5
Quebec 16.9 17.1 0.2 35.3 35.7 0.4
Ontario 18.4 18.6 0.2 38.3 38.9 0.6
Manitoba 21.6 21.8 0.2 44.0 44.5 0.5
Saskatchewan 17.9 18.0 0.1 41.2 41.6 0.4
Alberta 13.1 13.2 0.1 44.9 45.5 0.6
British Columbia 19.4 19.6 0.2 42.4 42.9 0.5
Yukon 12.6 12.7 0.1 37.7 38.3 0.6
Northwest Territories 18.9 19.1 0.2 44.7 45.4 0.7
Nunavut 32.6 33.2 0.6 37.9 37.8 -0.1
WITB population
Canada 56.3 58.3 2.0 28.5 30.9 2.4
Newfoundland and Labrador 51.8 53.5 1.7 25.9 27.9 2.0
Prince Edward Island 57.2 59.0 1.8 28.3 30.5 2.2
Nova Scotia 57.9 59.8 1.9 28.3 30.6 2.3
New Brunswick 58.2 60.1 1.9 28.3 30.4 2.1
Quebec 54.2 56.8 2.6 26.1 28.7 2.6
Ontario 56.9 58.8 1.9 28.9 31.3 2.4
Manitoba 59.0 60.5 1.5 31.7 34.1 2.4
Saskatchewan 56.7 58.3 1.6 31.2 33.4 2.2
Alberta 56.6 57.8 1.2 32.1 34.6 2.5
British Columbia 57.1 59.0 1.9 27.6 30.1 2.5
Yukon 59.2 60.8 1.6 31.7 34.1 2.4
Northwest Territories 61.4 62.7 1.3 35.3 37.6 2.3
Nunavut 36.7 38.8 2.1 24.8 25.0 0.2
Female lone-parent family
Canada 42.2 42.9 0.7 39.9 40.2 0.3
Newfoundland and Labrador 47.4 48.1 0.7 34.7 35.1 0.4
Prince Edward Island 44.2 45.1 0.9 34.5 35.2 0.7
Nova Scotia 48.0 49.0 1.0 38.9 39.3 0.4
New Brunswick 48.8 49.8 1.0 36.6 37.0 0.4
Quebec 38.4 38.6 0.2 35.3 35.5 0.2
Ontario 40.1 41.1 1.0 37.0 37.2 0.2
Manitoba 55.0 55.6 0.6 47.1 47.3 0.2
Saskatchewan 52.2 52.8 0.6 45.2 45.4 0.2
Alberta 41.1 41.6 0.5 48.9 49.3 0.4
British Columbia 44.4 45.2 0.8 44.5 44.9 0.4
Yukon 31.7 32.2 0.5 41.8 42.1 0.3
Northwest Territories 48.4 48.8 0.4 51.4 51.9 0.5
Nunavut 58.8 59.5 0.7 45.7 45.5 -0.2
WITB female lone-parent family
Canada 53.7 57.2 3.5 24.8 26.6 1.8
Newfoundland and Labrador 58.4 61.5 3.1 21.7 23.8 2.1
Prince Edward Island 62.1 65.3 3.2 23.0 25.1 2.1
Nova Scotia 59.1 62.9 3.8 23.8 25.9 2.1
New Brunswick 59.6 63.5 3.9 23.6 25.6 2.0
Quebec 61.9 63.8 1.9 25.1 26.4 1.3
Ontario 48.0 52.2 4.2 23.0 24.7 1.7
Manitoba 55.9 59.2 3.3 26.3 28.2 1.9
Saskatchewan 57.0 60.0 3.0 28.1 30.0 1.9
Alberta 58.8 61.4 2.6 30.0 31.9 1.9
British Columbia 53.6 57.1 3.5 25.2 27.2 2.0
Yukon 49.8 53.2 3.4 26.1 28.2 2.1
Northwest Territories 65.0 67.3 2.3 33.4 35.4 2.0
Nunavut 40.7 42.9 2.2 26.1 26.3 0.2

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