Posted by NationBuilder Support · February 11, 2014 12:06 PM
Budget sets the stage for income splitting, a costly and unfair tax giveaway
OTTAWA—Despite its commitment to eliminating the national deficit, Stephen Harper's 2014 budget denies Canadians the help they need to reduce inequality and create good jobs. The budget also prepares the way for the implementation of income splitting, a $3 billion tax giveaway that offers no help to the Canadians who need relief the most.
With almost 1.5 million unemployed workers and a record 13% youth unemployment rate, Canadians need a government that prioritizes productive investments and secure, well-paying jobs over attacks on unions and ads for a phantom jobs grant. A lack of much-needed infrastructure investment further compounds problems for Canada's municipalities.
When Jim Flaherty introduces his budget next week, he may trumpet a long-promised policy that would allow parents with children at home to split their income to reduce the amount of tax they pay.
Income splitting is a tax policy that would allow a higher-earning person to assign some of his or her income to a spouse, effectively lowering what tax bracket he or she is in. The policy brings the most benefit to a couple in which one spouse works while the other stays at home with the kids, and could cost the treasury a few billion dollars of lost tax revenue a year.
But the policy can also be seen as a tailored appeal to voters in the constituencies the Conservatives need to hold to keep their majority.
Family income splitting was first promised back in the 2011 election campaign, with the caveat that it wouldn’t be introduced until the budget was balanced. Three years later Mr. Flaherty is expected to announce that the government is on course to get out of the red by next year, just in time for an election-year budget.
The Broadbent Institute launched a campaign this week, calling the income-splitting proposal a $3-billion Mad Men giveaway. They describe it as a misguided policy that favours the wealthy and is based on an early 1960s concept of the traditional family. On the other side of the coin, University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz and lobby groups such as the REAL Women of Canada have long argued for such a measure, on the grounds that it would remove a tax penalty for those families that want to have a parent stay at home but struggle to make it work financially.
Kevin Milligan, an economist at the University of British Columbia, said the policy would benefit only a small subset of families. For one, single parent families are ruled out. They make up 16 per cent of all families. What’s more, nearly 14 per cent of the population aged 15 and over lives alone, a rate four times higher than it was in 1961. About one in five people did not live in a census family in Canada in 2011.
So having removed all those millions of people from eligibility, the policy would also be of little or no benefit to those families where each parent earns roughly the same amount, or even those cases where they’re in the same tax bracket. It would be of most benefit to those families with a very-high earning breadwinner and a spouse who stays at home and earns nothing. That’s a relatively small group.
“Imagine it was your goal to transfer resources to families that choose to have a stay-at-home spouse and are struggling with their finances, then this is an odd policy to hit those people,” Prof. Milligan said. “If I had a couple billion to spend on remedying the inequities in our society, spending it on lowering the taxes of a $200,000 and $0 [incomes] couple is not where I would spend it.”
So why pursue it? It represents a marriage of ideological and strategic goals. One clue comes from the accidentally leaked Conservative strategy document about the ethnic vote in the last campaign. It said of certain ethnic groups “they live where we need to win.” The same is true of families with children. The key seats that are vulnerable to a Liberal resurgence are those suburban ridings around big cities, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area. The Conservatives need to hold on to them and they are rich with families with young children.
Take, for example, Brampton West, a Conservative gain in 2011. Roughly 54 per cent of families in that riding have children at home, much higher than the Canadian average of 36 per cent. The same is true for many other similar ridings, such as Mississauga-Brampton-South, Ajax-Pickering and Pickering Scarborough-East, which have above-average numbers of families with children at home.
The Conservatives will still have to work hard to get them to the polls though. A StatsCan study of the 2011 election found that “the presence of children was negatively associated with 2011 voting in all family types.” Single parents with kids under five had the lowest turnout figures at 36 per cent. Couples with children under five voted at a 60 per cent rate, very close to average.
Statistics Canada released Friday Canada's January Labour Force numbers, showing Canada's job market remains mired in a weak recovery.
On the surface, the labour force numbers look alright. The national unemployment rate fell from 7.2% to 7.0%, and employment rose by 29,000, all in full-time employment.
However, the employment rate (the proportion of the working age population with a job) was unchanged at 61.6%, and the unemployment rate fell mainly because of a decline in the number of persons seeking work.
Posted by NationBuilder Support · February 04, 2014 4:19 AM
OTTAWA—As the Conservative government prepares to introduce a Mad Men-style tax giveaway after the federal budget is balanced, the Broadbent Institute today launched an information campaign against the proposed $3 billion handout for Canada’s wealthiest families.
"It’s absurd that the Conservatives plan to take a $3 billion surplus and spend it on a tax giveaway to high-income families — it’s as though the government is trying to recreate a society straight out of an episode of Mad Men," said Executive Director Rick Smith. "Today we are taking the first step in speaking out against the proposed Conservative family income splitting plan that will exacerbate inequality in Canada."
Under the Conservative plan, a two-parent family with children under 18 will be allowed to split up to $50,000 of their income for tax purposes.
"An analysis of the plan shows 86% of Canadians, including single mothers and low-income parents in the lowest tax bracket, will receive no benefit whatsoever from the scheme," added Smith. "And the top 5% of families would see more benefit than the bottom 60% of families."
As part of the campaign, the Broadbent Institute is launching a contest asking Canadians how they would invest the money lost to income splitting. "The Broadbent Institute will be making it a priority over the months ahead to draw attention to income inequality and the terrible ways income splitting threatens to make this problem much worse," said Smith.
From deepening income inequality to rising unemployment, Canada faces a wide range of pressing economic challenges that ought to be addressed in next week’s federal budget. Yet little is expected in the way of, for instance, sorely needed measures to address our jobs crisis. Instead, the Conservative government is focused on balancing the budget so it can deliver on its highly political and expensive promise of a pre-election tax break.
According to the C.D. Howe Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Conservative plan to introduce family income splitting will mean some $3 billion per year in lost federal revenues, and some $5 billion per year if the provinces follow suit.
What services and programs will be cut to finance this?
The ongoing slashing in Ottawa holds unsettling clues. Federal cuts to science and our social safety net, as well as the squeeze on transfers to the provinces that support programs like health care, are bound only to get worse. And all this in order to balance the budget for what amounts to a tax gift for the affluent.
Family income splitting would benefit only a small minority of families, giving a big tax break to high-income traditional families with one earner and a stay-at-home spouse, while delivering little or nothing to other families.
The move would allow couples with children under 18 to share up to $50,000 for tax purposes. That translates into a tax cut of more than $6,000 per year for a couple with one person in the top tax bracket. In the case of someone earning more than about $185,000 per year, income-splitting would allow the full amount of $50,000 to be shifted from the top to the bottom tax bracket, thus cutting the tax rate on that money nearly in half.
Single-parent families, already more vulnerable, account for more than one in four children, yet would receive nothing from the tax break. Nor would there be a benefit for working couples with children in which neither parent earns more than about $45,000. That is because both earners are already in the lowest tax bracket.
The math of income-splitting is such that there would be only small savings, if any, where both parents earn between about $45,000 and $135,000. In fact, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the top 5 per cent of all families would see more benefit than the bottom 60 per cent — and 86 per cent of families would see no benefit at all.
This tax measure will be sold as a way to support families who choose to have one parent (usually the mother) stay at home to care for children.
If the Harper government really wanted to expand choices for families with young children in a fair way, it could improve maternity and parental benefits under employment insurance. This program allows for up to one year’s paid leave from work, but benefits are so small — on average, just over $400 per week — that many families have to cut the leave short.
Alternatively, the government could increase child benefits for lower-income families so that families choosing to work fewer hours, and thus to earn less, get more support through higher child tax credits.
The $3 billion that income splitting will drain from federal coffers would be enough to increase federal spending on child tax credits by more than 25 per cent. Or to double current spending on maternity and parental leave benefits. Or to make a significant contribution toward enhanced access to quality child-care programs.
But none of those policies would achieve what the family income splitting proposal is designed achieve: to prop up the traditional family model by encouraging one parent to stay home. Call it Harper’s $3-billion Mad Men giveaway.
No wonder the policy has been actively promoted by social and religious conservative organizations such as REAL Women and Focus on the Family Canada, which have opposed public child care and are strong believers in the traditional single-earner family.
While income splitting will be advertised as a boon to the middle class, it is in fact a gift to the well-off and a surreptitious sop to the socially conservative. It will benefit almost no one else.
It is a sad statement that the No. 1 priority of the government’s upcoming budget is to lay the groundwork to introduce a tax measure that will further increase income inequality while failing to meet the needs of the vast majority of families with young children.
In last year’s Speech from the Throne, the Harper government promised to introduce legislation to require “balanced budgets during normal economic times, and concrete time lines for return to balance in the event of an economic crisis.”
This proposed legislation makes little sense in terms of sound economic policy. But it will likely be introduced as part of the federal budget, expected early next month.
Posted by NationBuilder Support · January 20, 2014 10:04 AM
In the next few weeks (no firm date has yet been set), Statistics Canada will release the results of the 2012 Survey of Financial Security. This survey, which is unfortunately only conducted on an episodic basis, will provide a detailed look at the assets, debts and net wealth of Canadians. It will provide an important complement to the many sources of information we have on incomes and income inequality.
When we consider the economic resources of households, wealth – mainly consisting of housing, equity in businesses and financial assets – clearly matters a lot in terms of security and the ability to spend. National wealth is an important yardstick for comparing ourselves with other countries (it was why Adam Smith wrote about the Wealth of Nations), and we can only judge the real extent of economic inequality when we look at the distribution of wealth among households, and not just annual income flows.
University of Paris economist Thomas Piketty pioneered (with Emmanuel Saez) historical analysis of income inequality, and carefully documented the changing income share of the top 1 per cent in rich countries. Now he has done the same for wealth.
In a major article and a forthcoming English-language edition of his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Mr. Piketty shows that the ratio of total household wealth to national income, or gross domestic product (GDP), in advanced industrial countries is not constant over time. In fact, the ratio was very high in the pre-industrial era and the early years of industrialization, but fell to a low of two to three times GDP between the First World War and 1970. Today, national wealth in the advanced economies is back to late-19th-century levels of four to six times GDP.
Generally speaking, wealth is higher relative to GDP in Europe than in North America. Here in Canada, wealth was at a low of 2.5 times GDP back in 1970, but is now about four times higher than GDP.
The reasons for the decline of wealth relative to GDP over much of the 20th century likely included the destruction of wealth in two world wars and the Great Depression, and an extended period in the middle of the century in which the financial sector was closely regulated and labour’s share of national income was high relative to the share of capital.
Mr. Piketty further shows that wealth was generally much more equally distributed by the mid-20th century than it had been in the pre-industrial era and the late 19th century. The share of all wealth held by the top 10 per cent in rich countries is typically very high, at 60 to 70 per cent, but this is still well below late-19th-century levels of 80 to 90 per cent.
Karl Marx famously argued that the stock of capital would inexorably rise and become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands due to the dynamics of capitalism. He was wrong. But Mr. Piketty fears that the rising ratio of wealth to GDP, combined with increasing inequality in the distribution of wealth since about 1970, may bring us back to the extreme economic inequality of the Victorian era and the so-called Gilded Age in the United States.
In the case of Canada, a very large share of net wealth (assets such as houses, pensions and financial assets, minus debts) is concentrated in relatively few hands, and that share has been slowly rising. In 2005, the top 10 per cent of households owned 58.2 per cent of all wealth, up from 51.8 per cent in 1989 (the earliest year for which we have data). The bottom 70 per cent of households owned just 14.5 per cent of all net wealth.
These numbers are generally acknowledged to significantly understate the real degree of wealth inequality, since surveys based on small samples will not include the few super-wealthy individuals who control much of Canada’s wealth. The 2013 Forbes magazine rankings show that 29 Canadian persons or families have more than $1-billion of assets, led by the Thomson family with assets of $20.3-billion.
It will be interesting to see, in the new Financial Security survey, if Canadian wealth inequality increased further from 2005 to 2012. This was a period in which housing prices increased significantly, while financial assets (which are much more concentrated in a few hands, with 80 per cent being owned by the top 10 per cent) did not do so well. However, household debt also rose sharply over this period.
The danger may lie more in the future than in the very recent past. If wealth, especially financial wealth, looms large as a share of GDP, and if rates of return on capital remain high in a relatively sluggish economy, wealth will become highly concentrated in the hands of the very few.
Posted by NationBuilder Support · January 13, 2014 8:22 AM
The job numbers for the end of 2013 could not have been much worse than this. But don't expect the Harper Conservatives to do anything about it in a February federal Budget which will be all about 2015 pre-election politics.
In December, the Canadian economy lost 60,000 full-time jobs, and the national unemployment rate rose sharply from 6.9 per cent to 7.2 per cent. The youth unemployment rate jumped from 13.4 per cent to 14 per cent.
While the Conservatives have bragged about the strength of the recovery, the proportion of Canadians with jobs was down in December from a year earlier, and the unemployment rate was up, from 7.1 per cent to 7.2 per cent.
In short, no progress was made in 2013.
The prospects for 2014 are not rosy. Most forecasters expect little improvement on the jobs front as the housing boom slows and households, now with record-high levels of debt, slow down their spending. The hard-hit manufacturing sector continues to shed jobs as new plant closure announcements multiply.
There is a lot that the federal government could do to help sustain and create jobs, especially for hard-hit young people and recent immigrants.
We could take advantage of still very low interest rates to finance major new investments in public and environmental infrastructure, including public transit, which would both create jobs and reduce carbon emissions.
We could invest in innovation, skills, and research and development to transition from our overreliance on resources to a more sophisticated Canadian economy.
We could lighten up on cuts to public services which kill jobs even as they harm Canadian families.
But the federal budget will do close to nothing along these lines since the Harper Conservatives have only one goal: to set the stage for pre-election tax cuts in the 2015 budget.
They can't cut taxes till they have balanced the budget. So this year, the order of the day will be no new programs, and even more cuts to jobs and services. Watch for new austerity measures on top of already announced cuts which will see federal direct program spending (program spending minus transfers to persons and minus transfers to provinces) fall by $5.3 billion from 2013-14 to 2014-15.
These deep cuts are being imposed in spite of the fact that the federal debt is already falling as a share of the economy. Even bank economists say that there is no particular hurry to eliminate our remaining modest deficit.
The race to balance the federal budget is motivated not by economics but by the political determination of the Conservatives to deliver a big personal tax cut just before the 2015 election in the form of income-splitting for families with children.
No one is against a break for hard-working families, or measures that would allow parents to spend more time with children – but is income splitting the way forward? We could, for example, expand parental leave benefits under the Employment Insurance program so more parents could afford to take up to a year off work after the arrival of a child.
But the Conservative proposal to allow a shift of up to $50,000 between partners in a family with children up to age 18 is deeply flawed.
There would be no benefit at all to the one in four children who live in single parent families, nor would there be much (if any) benefit to lower-income families with two earners where neither earns above the $50,000 needed to move out of the lowest tax bracket. Stephen Harper is essentially proposing that we transfer more of the tax burden onto single-parent and lower- and middle-income families.
For the first time ever, the percentage of Canadian seniors aged 65 to 69 who are still working rose to more than one in four in the autumn of 2013.
As shown by Statistics Canada, while the life expectancy of Canadians has been steadily rising, the average number of years spent not working has actually been stable since the mid-1990s – due to the fact that more and more seniors continue to work past the traditional age of retirement.