Income Inequality - By Randy Hatfield
ome and wealth inequality have climbed to near the top of the list of the public’s concerns. According to a nationwide survey conducted by the Broadbent Institute in 2014, 86% of Canadians view the gap as a “very big problem” or “somewhat of a problem”, regardless of geography, gender, income, age or support of political party.
And the evidence of the corrosive effect of the growing gap has been piling up:
- In their groundbreaking book The Spirit Level (2009), authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett summarize years of research showing how societies with large income disparities experience greater health and social problems. Through international comparisons, as well as comparisons between U.S. states, they conclude that societies with less income disparity have higher levels of life expectancy and health for all citizens. The research demonstrates that key indicators in determining a healthy society - security, education, low rates of drug abuse, less obesity, social mobility, mental and physical health, manageable household debt, child well-being, fewer teenage pregnancies, and trust and community life - are affected by economic inequality.
- U of T's Centre for Urban and Community Studies has shown that income inequality leads to people living in neighbourhoods that are either “rich” or “poor,” with fewer middle-class neighbourhoods. It also indicated that such neighbourhoods create problems for child development and the opportunities for children. According to United Way Toronto, when the incomes earned by those at the bottom and in the middle of the income distribution are low, spending by these individuals is constrained, which affects the economic growth of communities.
- Inequality is linked to poorer health outcomes. Even in Canada, where health care is supposed to be one of the great equalizers, low income earners are less likely to have a family doctor and to seek early treatment for medical problems. The result: poorer health for those at the bottom of the income scale – a trend that can exact a heavy economic toll through lost productivity and higher health care bills.
- The Canadian Medical Association states that individuals with incomes below the poverty threshold “experience relatively higher rates of suicide, mental illness, disability, cancer, heart disease, and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes; as well, these individuals are 1.9 times more likely to be hospitalized, are 60% less likely to get tested for a health condition, and are 3 times less likely to fill prescriptions because of the associated costs.”
- The Globe and Mail reported in 2013 that as Canadian neighbourhoods become increasingly polarized along income lines, the promise of education giving every child an equal shot at a better life becomes harder to fulfill. An analysis using standardized test scores and Statistics Canada income data painted a clear picture of inequality in Toronto’s public elementary schools: High-income areas are primarily home to high-achieving schools while lower-income areas have a higher number of lower-scoring schools
By Randy Hatfield