Understanding what has been happening in recent years with income inequality in Canada is vitally important.
What do we know, for example, about the incidence of low income and poverty, or the impact of taxes and income transfers on the level and distribution of family income? What are the differences in income across provinces, or between different kinds of families, such as seniors and lone-parent families? More pressingly from a public policy perspective, what difference has government policy made to the economic well-being of Canadian families and to the fairness and equity of Canadian society?
Answering these questions relies on having sound data that are reliable and comparable over time.Read more
Wages in Canada and the other advanced economies are about as flat as left-over champagne in the glass on New Year's Day. This poses a major threat to a sustained economic recovery.Read more
During the four years from 2009 through 2013, average hourly wages adjusted for inflation rose by a grand total of just 2.3%, or by about one half of 1% per year. Real wages rose by a total of only 0.9% in Ontario and 1.1% in Quebec over those four years, though by a healthier but still unimpressive 4.8% in Alberta.
Economists take a benign view of the impact of technological change on jobs, dismissing the "Luddite" view that technical progress can be a significant cause of unemployment. The core argument is that higher productivity (output per hour worked) drives increases in incomes so that demand rises, creating new jobs as old ones are destroyed.Read more
That said, it has become the conventional wisdom that there are winners and losers from the new information based, digital technologies, and that these have been an important factor behind rising income inequality since the 1980s. “Skill biased technological change” is held to benefit the highly educated since technology generally complements cognitive skills, while it eliminates many less skilled jobs.
The Harper government claims to be good economic managers pursuing a successful jobs and growth agenda.
To be sure, there are many factors other than federal government policy that strongly influence Canadian jobs and incomes, such as resource prices, business decisions, the state of the United States and the global economy, and the actions of provincial governments. No federal government can take all or even most of the credit or blame for how our economy is doing.Read more
The words “industrial policy” have been virtually banned from polite company, and should certainly never be uttered in the presence of small and impressionable children.
Many mainstream economists and conservative think-tanks believe that governments should seek only to create a favourable business climate through low taxes and light regulation, and should not intervene in the investment decisions of private corporations.
And yet, industrial policy (which should be called strategic economic policy) persists, and arguably has a greater impact on investment and jobs than broad framework policies like deep corporate tax cuts.Read more
Glance at just about any publication from the Fraser Institute and other conservative think tanks, and you will be told that too much government social spending and too much regulation of the job market damage growth and job creation. There is, we are told, an ineluctable trade off between social equity and economic efficiency.
Yet this does not readily show up in international comparisons. Germany and some Northern European countries have built highly productive economies and enjoy low unemployment despite being much more equal societies than the United States or Canada.
There is also little evidence of an equity-efficiency trade-off within Canada. Consider the case of Quebec's social and economic performance compared to other provinces.
Young people lag behind in Canada's economic recovery, with rates of unemployment and underemployment still significantly above pre-recession levels. The danger is that this will have a permanent scarring effect on many youth, with long-term negative implications for both our economy and our society.
It is often forgotten that Canada still has a large “echo baby boom” youth age cohort, with some 4.4 million persons age 15 to 24 now transitioning into the paid work force. They will all be needed in a few years just to replace “baby boomer” retirees, and our economic prospects will be brighter if our future work force gains relevant skills and experience today.Read more
Matthew Behrens, Editor (for the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights). Unions Matter: Advancing Democracy, Economic Equality and Social Justice. Toronto. Between the Lines. 2014.
This excellent book on why unions and a strong labour movement are essential building blocks of a sound economy and of a just and democratic society deserves to be widely circulated. It is accessible to individual labour activists who wish to deepen their understanding of the role of unions – both inside and outside the workplace – and should be widely adopted for use in post-secondary labour studies courses and union educational programs.Read more
In his now famous book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty argues that there is a strong tendency for wealth to become concentrated in ever fewer hands unless the economic forces promoting greater inequality are countered by deliberate political choices.Read more
The OECD Economic Survey of Canada released today calls for tax reforms which would increase government revenues while also reducing inequality, specifically calling for changes to preferential treatment of stock options.Noting that income inequality in Canada is above the OECD average and has been rapidly rising in recent years, the organization states that "there is also scope for the federal government to increase efficiency and reduce income inequality by further reducing tax expenditures that benefit relatively higher income households, such as... preferential treatment of stock options” (p. 38).Read more
Data from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) which replaced the long- form census indicate that racial status remains a significant factor in shaping advantage and disadvantage in the Canadian job market and in influencing the overall level of poverty and income inequality.
Put bluntly, non-whites do significantly worse than whites, in part because of racial discrimination.Read more
The run up to the recent Quebec election prompted a revival of the argument that only federal transfers keep that fiscally-challenged province afloat. For example, Mark Milke of the Fraser Institute argued in the National Post that Quebec is “massively subsidized by the rest of Canada.”
This argument is hugely over-done. And it contradicts a more effective and positive argument for federalism, namely that it has been no barrier to the construction of a distinctive and progressive social model in Quebec.Read more
As is well-known, the proportion of women who are active in the paid work force has grown very rapidly since the 1970s, transforming the workplace and society as a whole in the process. The rising participation rate of women was a major economic force over the past three decades in that it kept real family incomes afloat despite stagnant, if not falling, male wages.Read more
A widely-reported study by the New York Times shows that middle-class Canadians now have higher after-tax incomes than middle-class Americans, and that Canadian middle-class incomes, adjusted for inflation, have been rising significantly over the past decade.
The facts cited in the original article are not in dispute. The median per-person income in the United States (half earn more and half earn less) has stagnated for the past decade, and the income share of the top 1% in that country has continued to rise to record-high levels.
But this does not mean, as the Harper Conservatives and right-wing pundits have been quick to claim, that all is well with the Canadian middle class.Read more
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) have published a major report undertaken by PwC Canada to assess the contribution to Canadian public finances of their members. The report is based on data provided by sixty three participating member companies representing 40% of Council members.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the report is clearly intended to leave the impression that corporate Canada is heavily taxed and a major funder of government programs and services. It has been released in the wider context of studies questioning the effectiveness of deep cuts to corporate tax rates which have resulted in mounting piles of “dead money” accumulating on corporate balance sheets.Read more
A close look at today's labour force numbers indicates that fewer Canadians in all age groups are either working or are unemployed and actively seeking work.
While it is influenced by demographic trends such as an aging population, a falling participation rate is generally a sign that people have given up looking for jobs due to a low level of hiring by employers.Read more
Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will be rightly remembered for the 2009 federal Budget which provided much-needed fiscal stimulus to boost a crisis-ridden Canadian economy and helped set the stage for recovery.
While the government was reluctant to act, domestic political as well as international pressure from the G20 forced even strict fiscal conservatives such as Prime Minister Harper and Minister Flaherty to find their inner Keynes.Read more
The fact that income inequality in Canada today is significantly greater than it was 30 years ago is not in serious dispute. But there is much less agreement on the underlying causes.
It is important to look at trends in the “pre-distribution” of income by the market in the form of wages and salaries, and changes in the impact of government taxes and income transfer programs that redistribute market income from the more affluent to the less affluent.Read more
Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh. The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power, 1972-1975. Harbour Publishing. 2012.
This impressive and readable book by two well-known and respected British Columbia authors sheds light on a now largely forgotten episode in Canadian politics and is a welcome reminder of the very real gains that can be made by a determined and genuinely progressive government.
Geoff Meggs is a journalist and current Vancouver City Councillor, and Rod Mickleburgh writes from Vancouver for the Globe and Mail.Read more
Statistics Canada released today the Survey of Financial Security (SFS), providing Canadians with the first comprehensive snapshot of wealth and wealth distribution in the country since 2005.
While Canadian’s net worth has increased significantly since 2005, mostly due to increases in housing prices, the real story is one of persistent economic inequality and rising debt.Read more
Andrew Jackson is the Broadbent Institute's Senior Policy Advisor.
In September, 2012 he retired from a long career as Chief Economist and Director of Social and Economic Policy with the Canadian Labour Congress.
In 2011, he was awarded the Sefton Prize by the University of Toronto for his lifetime contributions to industrial relations. Educated at the University of British Columbia and the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he earned a B. Sc. and an M.Sc. in Economics, Andrew is the author of numerous articles and five books, including Work and Labour in Canada: Critical Issues, which is now in its second edition with Canadian Scholars Press.