“We Are The 99%” Is Just Shorthand For The Real Problem

“We are the 99%” has been an effective slogan used by The Occupy Movement and others to draw attention to the very serious problem of income and wealth concentration in North America. It is important however, that both those in the movement and those who are listening to the message, remember that the problem isn’t specifically with those whose income falls above the arbitrarily drawn 1% mark.

The real problem is that over the past thirty years, the productivity gains of our economy haven’t benefited the vast majority of Canadians. Drastic cuts in corporate taxes, combined with trade agreements and a regulatory environment that favours companies over people, has meant that large corporations have consistently made record profits while the income of Canadians has been stagnant. The numerous personal tax cuts over the last thirty years to “put more money in the pockets of Canadians” have actually not resulted in any more money in the pockets of Canadians. What it has resulted in is that despite having almost the same income as thirty years ago Canadians do not have the benefit of all of the government services that they used to receive. This is where the top 1% comes in. Those who are earning the most in our society are the exception. Their incomes have not been stagnant. But it is not specifically the top 1%.

From 1981 to 2009 Canada’s GDP per capita grew by 46% (from $26081 in 1981 to $38070 in 2009 using 2002 chained dollars). However during this same time, the after tax income of the bottom earning 20% of Canadians grew by only 7% (from $13,500 to $14,500-in 2009 constant dollars), the middle earning 60% of Canadians income grew by 8.5% (from $46,600 to $50,633-in 2009 constant dollars), while the top 20% of earners saw their incomes grow by 30% (from $101,500 to $132,000-in 2009 constant dollars). So even the average income of the top 20% didn’t grow as much as the economy did, yet it is clearly unjust that the top 20% increased their already larger incomes by almost four times as much as the rest of Canadians.

But those who are even higher on the income ladder did substantially better. The top 1% of earners in Canada take almost 16% of all the income earned in Canada-an increase of 90% since 1982. Those in the top .1% take 6.5% of all of the income earned- a startling 260% increase from 1982.

So the real issue isn’t that the top 1% are a group apart from the rest of us. The real issue is that we have allowed our society to become one in which productivity gains in the economy benefit those towards the top of the income distribution, leaving the majority of Canadians to work more productive, longer hours without any benefit.