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The Globe and Mail

'We are the 30%' a better chant for Canadian protesters

Statistics show that the incomes of the poorest Canadians are catching up to the middle class.


Tammy Schirle is an Associate Professor of Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University

We are the 99 per cent?

I have had the privilege of living at both ends of the income distribution. No doubt about it, being poor sucks. But it's not the poor leading the "We are the 99 per cent" protests. What has happened to create such discontent with capitalism?

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My suspicion is the recent protests represent the discontent of the middle class, not 99 per cent of the population. This is why:

First, incomes of the middle class have not been keeping pace with the richest Canadians and it appears to be the same case in the United States. In Canada, family earnings at the 99th percentile (representing the richest 1 per cent) increased by 11 per cent from 1995 to 2005. The 90th percentile increased by 4 per cent. But the earnings of the middle class (50th percentile) only increased by 2 per cent. (Some precise numbers can be found here.) This is the type of comparison being made to suggest income inequality has increased over time.

Second, incomes of the poorest Canadians are catching up to the middle class. The family earnings of the 10th percentile (representing our poorest 10 per cent of Canadians) increased by more than 20 per cent from 1995-2005. I don't think anyone would suggest this is a bad outcome. Notably, if we were comparing the richest Canadians to the poorest Canadians we would actually state that income inequality has declined over time.

Finally, during this past recession the middle class has faced an extended period of uncertainty about their economic future. The uncertainty for the U.S. middle class is even greater. They are worried their relative position in society could worsen if things don't change soon -- and they are not happy.

So the discontent is not about that 1 per cent of Canadians who own more than the rest of us. The discontent is about the 30 per cent of Canadians living with middle class incomes that aren't keeping them far ahead of the Joneses.

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