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Canadians believe income inequality getting worse

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Three-quarters of Canadians think income inequality has increased in recent years, a higher proportion than among Americans or the British, a new global survey shows.

A study by the Pew Research Centre compares attitudes citizens have about the economies. Broadly speaking, it finds people around the world "decidedly unhappy" about their nations' economies and concerned over rising income inequality.

There are stark differences, though, between the developed and developing world, with people in emerging markets far more likely to be pleased with their economies than those in advanced economies.

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In Canada, more than half of people (or 55 per cent) say they are satisfied with the the direction their country is going in. And 82 per cent of respondents saying they're satisfied with their personal finances, the most upbeat response of any advanced country.

It's not all rosy, though, as more Canadians think the economy is worsening. This year, 67 per cent of citizens think the economy is good, compared with 80 per cent who thought so in 2007. And only three in 10 Canadians think the economy will improve in the next year.

Nearly half, or 45 per cent, say income inequality is a problem. That response comes after an OECD report last week showed Canada's income gap grew between 2007 and 2010 and is above the OECD average.

While perception prevails that inequality is growing in Canada (with 76 per cent saying it has grown in the past five years), it's still not the top concern for people.

Rather, a lack of employment opportunities should be the government's top priority, respondents say, followed by public debt. A fifth, or 22 per cent, said reducing inequality should be a top priority.

In a separate U.S.-Canada comparison, the study found Canadians are more satisfied than Americans about their country's economy, more likely to say their personal finances are good and less worried about unemployment.

However, Canadians are less optimistic than Americans that their economy will improve next year - and that their children will be better off than their parents.

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Nearly two-thirds of Canadians say their children will be worse off than their parents.

Poverty levels also differ in the two countries.

"In a possible commentary on the differences in the social welfare systems in Canada and the United States," 9 per cent of Canadians have struggled to afford food in the past year.

By contrast, in the United States, the wealthiest nation in the survey, nearly a quarter of Americans say they struggle to put food on the table, levels that put the U.S. on similar footing as Indonesia and Greece.

Similarly, 11 per cent of Canadians say there were occasions in the past year when they couldn't afford health or medical care for their family. Nearly three times as many Americans faced that problem.

While many people in advanced countries are gloomy, attitudes are much more upbeat elsewhere.

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Brazilians appear to be the most buoyant on the planet, with 88 per cent saying their personal economic situation will improve and eight in 10 thinking the national economy will strengthen in the coming year.

The global survey was based on polls conducted in 39 countries. In Canada, the survey was carried out by telephone in March, with a sample size of 701 people.

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More

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