Catching up with the middle class - Macleans.ca

Catching up with the middle class

Making sense of a debate that could decide the next election

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This afternoon I’m scheduled to be a guest on Cross Country Checkup to discuss the state of the middle-class in Canada. Ahead of that, I wanted to offer some of the more recent analysis from Maclean’s on the subject.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau used his speech at the recent Liberal convention in Montreal to suggest that Canadians may turn their backs on policies like free trade and fiscal restraint if they don’t start to see more gains come their way. Here, John Geddes looks at income trends since the belt-tightening of the 1990s and argues that overall, families have actually enjoyed their fair share of the gains from the growing economy.

To which I made the point it really depends on where you live, since average incomes for two-earner families in Ontario have lagged far behind other parts of the country.

Back to Trudeau’s convention speech, Stephen Gordon put solid numbers to the experience of Nathalie, a fictional Montrealer Trudeau used to illustrate the struggles of middle-class Canadians. Turns out Nathalie’s been doing just fine, thanks.

In a guest post, Lucas Kawa argues that using after-tax incomes to analyze the state of the middle class fails to capture the fact that during the past decade the real-earned income of Canadians, before government redistributions, has been pitiful.

Tamsin McMahon looks at an important question that gets lost in debates about the middle class—who, exactly, is in the middle class in Canada? Our obsession with data about median incomes and whether they’re rising fast enough misses the point, she says. What we should be looking at is the amount of money a family has left over, after paying for essential items, for discretionary spending.

Finally, new figures from StatsCan last week measuring the assets and liabilities of Canadian families sparked debate as some on the left claimed it offered further evidence of a widening gap between the rich and the poor, while those on the right pointed to the rising net worth of Canadians as a sign everything is A-OK. Kevin Milligan says both sides got it wrong.

Needless to say, this debate isn’t about to go away.

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