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Census figures just released by Statistics Canada confirm what CUPE and other unions have been arguing for a long time: neo-conservative economic policies aren’t working for working people and have lead to stagnant real wages and an ever widening gap between the rich and the rest of us.

The numbers are appalling and a stark indictment of the neo-conservative economic policies of cuts to public services, supply-side tax cuts, deregulation and “free trade” put in place by successive Liberal and Conservative federal governments:

  • Median earnings of full time employed Canadian workers increased by only $53 a year (in real dollars) for the entire quarter century from 1980 to 2005. 
  •  This works out to an increase of only two and a half cents an hour over 25 years and progress in percentage terms of only 0.005% in real wages per year.

But the situation is very different for the growing wealth of the rich and the increasingly impoverished poor in our society:

  • The richest fifth of the population saw their average income increase by over 16 per cent during this period, while the poorest fifth saw their average real income drop by 20 per cent.
  • The number of those making high incomes of over $100,000 (in 2005 dollars) has almost doubled.

Incomes for recent immigrants are falling further behind: in 1980, both men and women recent immigrants made 85 per cent of the average. By 2005 their earnings share had dropped to 63 per cent for men and only 56 per cent for women.

Almost 3.5 million Canadians – over 11% of our population – lived in low income poverty, according to the Census.  This includes 880,000 children – or one of every eight children in Canada, even after taking account of tax credits and subsidies.

The low income poverty rate for recent immigrants is especially high: more than one in three immigrants who have been here less than two years live in low income poverty.

The gender pay gap narrowed from 1980 to 2000, but since then it has been stagnant.  Young women working full-time full year still only make 85 cents on the dollar compared to young men.

The only way that working families have been able to get ahead is by working longer and harder hours.    All but the richest 10% of families are working more weeks and hours in paid employment.  The average family with children is working 200 more hours compared to nine years ago.   The richest 10% didn’t increase their work hours at all from 1996 to 2004, yet saw a major increase in their earnings.

And, as a number of more detailed studies have shown, it is the super-rich who have gained the most from skyrocketing executive income raises.  Tax changes since then have overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. 

The highest paid CEOs in Canada now takes home for just four hours work the same amount that it takes someone at the minimum wage to earn for a full year’s of work.  And thanks to loopholes such as the capital gains and stock option tax deduction, which now costs the federal government a combined $11 billion in lost revenues each year, many CEOs pay a lower rate of tax than ordinary working and low income Canadians. 

Meanwhile, average minimum wages in Canada are still approximately 20% below what they were in real dollar terms thirty years ago.  No wonder working people are having such a hard time getting ahead.

The economic meltdown in the U.S.– caused by similar policies – show that these economic policies are not just intensely unfair, but they are also bad for the economy.  It’s time for some real and fundamental changes.