Why we need to talk about income inequality

I like to think that all SFU students have at least one thing in common — that we all wish to build a life for ourselves that is better, if not equal to, the life our parents built for us. However, over the past 30 years, the income gap between the top one per cent of earners and the rest of Canada has been steadily widening and threatening our ability to move upwards on the class-scale.

What this means for us — the ones about to enter the world of full-time employment — is that we will have to work more to earn less. The Broadbent Institute reports that for every dollar increase in national earnings, 30 cents goes to the top one per cent, leaving 70 cents to be divided amongst the remaining 99 per cent of the population.

This gap, along with the list of reasons for it, has been growing over the past few decades. If we look at technological changes, the recent outsourcing of jobs, the decline in unionization, and the deterioration of societal equalizers such as public healthcare, it is understandable why the middle-class has been scrambling to hold on. We now live in a world where upward mobility is limited.

Statistics Canada has been tracking the wealth gap for over 30 years, but rarely is it mentioned by our nation’s leaders. We often hear references to the ‘middle-class squeeze,’ which occurs when rising prices are met with falling incomes, but the numbers surrounding the wage gap are not discussed nearly as often.

Ottawa doesn’t seem to care about how wealth is redistributed unevenly in Canada.

The absence of income inequality on the Canadian political agenda should bother us, as Ottawa doesn’t seem to care about how wealth has been redistributed unevenly in our country. We have the most at stake as Canada comes to a crossroads; if we don’t begin to take serious measures against the widening income gap, then Canada may no longer be a place of fair economic opportunity.

We must begin to ask more questions and put pressure on the government to address the issue. Before the gap begins to contract, public discussion on how to resolve the issue is essential. Canadians deserve a government that works with them to create a better and more stable economic future.

If the notion that our generation (and future generations) will have to work more for less is upsetting, I suggest we think about bringing fair wages, fair taxation and strong public services to the forefront of our own agendas. If we let these things slip through the cracks, the wage gap will undoubtedly continue to grow.

I want to live in a country where upward mobility is possible, but as long as we ignore income inequality, the chances of us living in that country grow smaller and smaller.