The Occupy movement did us all one big favor: It brought income inequality into the public debate. After close to 40 years of gradual income and wealth erosion, North America's middle and working classes now understand that they've been had.
While most of us were trying to make a living and a life, a very small number of well-tailored pickpockets were pilfering much of what we made. Then they had the chutzpah to blame us for not succeeding the way our parents and grandparents had, in the 30-year golden age after the Second World War.
Most of the debate in the past year has been in the U.S., where the 99 per cent have begun to suspect they'll never make it into the one per cent after all. The debate has been quieter in Canada, where programs like medicare have helped to keep the income gap a bit narrower. But it's still a gap, and it's getting worse.
The Broadbent Institute, an Ottawa think tank, recently released its own study of the problem. Towards a More Equal Canada sets out the situation in just 26 well-documented pages. Based in part on an extensive poll, the report has some findings rarely mentioned in political debate.
For example, a Canadian 25-year-old in the top fifth of income earners can expect to live 5.6 years longer than one in the bottom fifth, and 1.7 years longer than one in the middle fifth.
Between 1982 and 2004, families in the top one per cent saw their share of Canada's taxable income rise from 7.4 per cent to 11.2 per cent. In that period, yearly average income of the one per cent rose from $380,000 to $640,000.
The report finds that from 1982 to 2004, the bottom 60 per cent of Canadian families saw no increase in their incomes: "Over that period of more than 20 years, the income of a family in the exact middle of the income range rose from $42,000 to $43,000 (measured in 2004 purchasing power). ... Almost all of the income gains during that period went to the wealthiest 20 per cent of Canadian families, with much of that going to the top one per cent."
The top one per cent now receive 14 per cent of all income in Canada. That's less than the 18 per cent received by the American one per cent, but decidedly better than Sweden's 7.1 per cent.