I often hear that, despite all the complaints about privatization and the eroding of social programs, our income is going up so it’s for the best on the balance. Then I look around and see people without much money, and without social programs anymore either. So what’s up? A new Statistics Canada report gives it away: the average income may be going up, but average is only a useful measure if the data you’re measuring fall out on a nice neat bell curve, with most things in the middle and not much at either end. Income may have worked that way in North America in the post-war era (or maybe not, I don’t know), but we’ve been dragging out the disparity between the rich and the rest of us. Nowadays, in Canada (where income is relatively more equally distributed than in the US) 1/20th of the population have 1/4 of the goods.
That disparity is growing. The current data is from 2004, in 1992 the top 5% had just over a 1/5th of the pie. And the difference between the merely really rich (top 5%) and the ridiculously rich (top 1%) grew over that time too.
And here’s another fun fact: the number of woman in the top salaries (well under half of course) is actually trending down.
Bad as that all may sound, at least we’re doing better on the fuedal index than the US:
In Canada, the top 5% of individual income recipients in 2004 had an income of at least $89,000. In the United States, this figure would not have placed them even in the top 10% (using purchasing power parity values). The 5% threshold for the United States was $165,000. Further up the income distribution, the thresholds diverged considerably. The threshold for the top 0.01% of the taxfiler population in Canada was just over $2.8 million; in the United States, it was $9.4 million.
However, these differences paled when comparing average income. In 2004, in Canada, the average income for the top 5% of the taxfiler population was $178,000; in the United States, it was 2.5 times higher at $416,000.
The differences grew even larger higher up the income distribution. For the top 0.01% of the taxfiler population, the average American income was $25.8 million, over four times the Canadian figure of $5.9 million
The US:Canada differences quoted above don’t actually mean that the US has greater income disparity than Canada; if the US lower and middle classes were also proportionately more wealthy than their Canadian equivalents it would be possible for the American rich to be so much rich than the Canadian rich without it being a sign of class division. But, well, I doubt it.
So it’s good new if you’re rich, and probably don’t need good news. But if you’re in the middle or (god help you) lower classes you’ve traded away your political institutions for a deregulated/privatized environment that’s helped the rich get richer. It’s a good time to be rich, and a bad time to be poor.