The Occupy Wall Street movement and its various Canadian spinoffs are reviving the public debate about income distribution north of the border. On Friday, NDP leadership hopeful Brian Topp cast his lot with the “eat the rich” zeitgeist by advocating income tax hikes on the wealthy. Others are skeptical that heating up the fiscal pressure on the top earners is the most effective way to tackle yawning inequality.
Regardless of what constitutes the best policy cure, Occupy movements across the globe–and they’ve spread throughout the developed world–have put their finger on a real and widespread malaise of advanced economies. Between the mid-1980s and the mid-2000s inequality rose in most of the rich countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and in Canada income disparities have surpassed the OECD average. Granted, our super-rich are not quite as “super” as America’s wealthiest. In 2007, the threshold to qualify as one of Canada’s top one per cent of earners was a relatively modest $169,000 a year, compared to the U.S.’s eye-popping $400,000. Still, between 1980 and 2005 the earnings of Canada’s bottom income group fell by 20.6 per cent, according to Statistics Canada, whereas top incomes rose by 16.4 per cent. Folks in between generally saw their salaries stagnate like their peers in the U.S., where increased worker productivity has not translated into comparable income gains for the middle class.
Whether it’s a matter of taxing the top, or propping up the bottom and the middle, income distribution is likely to become a hot-button issue. Check out our calculator above to find out where you rank!
*Calculations are based on data from the Canada Revenue Agency’s Interim Income Statistics report, 2011 Edition (2009 tax year), Table 2 (All returns by total income class). Note that percentiles refer to income brackets, so an income of $29,999 falls into the bottom 51.9 per cent of Canadian tax-filers, whereas an income of $30,000 belongs to the top 48.1 per cent. Also, incomes below $1 and above $249,999 are not pictured proportionally. We’d like to also thank the Conference Board of Canada and Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for their assistance with research for the calculator.