Growing income gap will harm Canadas civil society

Lana Payne
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Another report and another reminder that the income gap between the rich and everyone else continues to worsen in Canada.

But this report, entitled The Rich and the Rest of Us, and done by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), came armed with more than statistics. It came with a call for action.

The reports author, economist Armine Yalnizyan, says we ignore the growing income inequality at our collective peril.

The trends are not what youd call good nation builders. Economic inequality often breeds discontent and is not exactly good for civil society.

The economy has been booming. The rich are getting a lot richer. The majority of Canadian families are working longer and harder and not getting ahead and the poor are stuck.

Canadian families are playing by the rules, getting better educated, delaying or dismissing the demands of family formation, working harder. And the best the majority gets out of the deal is to stay in place economically, says Yalnizyan.

According to polls, the majority of Canadians are concerned about the growing income gap and with the fact that despite unprecedented economic growth, most are not sharing in the wealth.

In fact, only the richest Canadians have benefited from the countrys economic prosperity.

The CCPA report notes that the income gap between the rich and the rest of Canadian families is growing at a faster rate than ever. This growing gap is not just a problem for the poor, who are working more hours than the previous generation, but for the majority of Canadian families.

Youd think that when the economy is booming and unemployment is low, the income gap would decrease.

Instead, the opposite has happened. According to Yalnizyan, the income gap is at a 30-year high. The earnings of the richest 10 per cent of Canadian families raising children are a whopping 82 times that earned by the poorest 10 per cent.

This is creating a new phenomenon in income distribution in Canada; the rich are breaking away from the rest of society in a way we have not seen since these data began to be collected in 1976, said Yalnizyan.

And its not because the rich are working longer. In fact, they got richer without having to increase the number of hours they spend at work, while the average Canadian household with children worked an average of 200 hours more annually compared to a decade ago.

But, just like the poor quality of the jobs being created in Canada, the income gap hasnt breached the iron fortress surrounding our political elite. Preoccupied with outmanoeuvring each other, there is little time or energy left in the day to dedicate to the things that matter to Canadians things like jobs and incomes.

Take the Harper Conservatives, as an example. They want us to believe they have turned over a new leaf not just with respect to the environment, but on matters of social justice.

Suddenly, they care about the working poor, leaking last week, as past governments have done, their plans to help the working poor. The details will be announced with this months budget.

Yet less than a year ago, this same government made it tougher on working families, especially low-income families, when it refused to implement an affordable child-care system.

It also slashed literacy programs and funding for womens groups who advocate for equality.

Not concerned

These are not the actions of a government concerned with the growing income gap or with the reality of peoples lives, because more often than not the working poor are women.

More often than not, literacy, education and skills development are crucial to raising peoples incomes.

So, while the federal government says it will act to do something for the working poor, their actions say otherwise. They are much more interested in silencing progressive forces than doing anything about Canadas inequality crisis.

And Canada needs those forces. Otherwise, who will speak for the poor, for women, for the disabled? Who will ensure our civil society advances? Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his common-sense revolution leftovers? Wasnt it their wacky across-the-board tax and spending cuts in Ontario that threw that province into peril?

And now, all Canadians are being subjected to the same faulty economic solutions, not unlike those of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Brian Mulroney in the 1980s. Give to the rich and somehow the crumbs will trickle down to the rest of us.

The crumbs are not trickling down.

Economic prosperity is not lifting all boats. Well-being cant be left up to the marketplace or trickle-down economics. It takes action and, yes, it takes government intervention to ensure the wealth generated by a nation is shared by all citizens.

It means provinces need to raise minimum wages. It means families need affordable child care so they can work or go to school. Its about really making a difference for Canadian families, rather than just saying you are.

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement. Her column returns March 18.

Organizations: Canadas civil society, Canadian Centre, Harper Conservatives

Geographic location: Canada, Ontario

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