October 20th, 2019

The richest are getting richer, and you’re not

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on October 8, 2019.

sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com

A few boring statistics to start:

• This country’s 87 richest families have the combined wealth of 12 million Canadians (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report). And more than 60 per cent of those are families who inherited it.

• As of 2015, Statistics Canada data shows nearly 25 per cent of all Canadian workers making $15/h or less. Alberta’s present-day numbers shrink a little because an adult currently can’t make less than that, but still, one in five workers in Medicine Hat make minimum, a vast majority (75 per cent) are over the age of 20 and most are women. No city in Alberta employs more low-wage earners than this one.

• A 2016 Centre for the Study of Living Standards report showed national productivity from 1976-2014 growing at more than 10 times the annual rate (1.12 per cent) than that of median earnings (0.09 per cent).

• Statistics Canada recently released a report (printed in this very newspaper) that showed, once again, the richest one per cent enjoyed the highest annual spike in income and the largest decrease in taxation.

• A house or car in 1999 averaged $193,900 and $20,686. Adjusted by inflation to 2019, those averages should be $298,774 and $31,874. Instead however, the Bureau of Census says the actual 2019 averages are $377,200 and $37,185. These numbers are 26 per cent and 14 per cent ahead of inflation, while the same report shows median household income a full 5 per cent behind it. In layman’s terms, while cost of living increases well beyond the rate of inflation, income hasn’t even kept pace with it.

Look, I realize statistics are boring and that math isn’t everyone’s favourite subject, but how many numbers do you need? In a province and country where all political focus, social media commentary and coffee-shop conversation revolves around feeling the pinch of “just getting by,” do you really need Statistics Canada to tell you something is wrong?

This isn’t rocket science. People are struggling.

For the better part of 50 years the working class has been sold on the idea of wealth trickling down, yet not only are we without any evidence of that actually occurring, we are drowning in proof that it doesn’t happen. The richest are getting richer, and you’re not.

Why does it have to be this way? Do we really have to live in a society where anything other than bowing down to the godlike status of capitalism makes you an outcast? Is there nothing about economics (an entirely non-scientific, manmade construct) we can challenge without being called a communist?

This isn’t working. How out of touch (or deceptive) do you need to be to ignore it?

While we argue about how to shrink public spending, or how long to put people in jail for, or what to do with that homeless camp, or where to stick the addicts so we don’t have to look at them, if we don’t address the systemic, structural reasons behind it all, we’re going to run out of other people’s backyards to hide things.

You can wish away the poor all you want, but in a system designed to create more, how long can you keep that up?

I am not looking to anger the small business community – you’re as much a victim of this system as anyone. Your inability to compete with the same corporate rich makes it hard stay afloat, and when you can’t compete, it really does make it harder – or even impossible – to increase wages or keep prices down.

But if something isn’t done about the purchasing power of your employees, your business is never going to shake the growing threats. If the cost of goods further rises beyond the means of those who buy them, everyone loses.

They tell us taxes are too high, but they’re less by percentage than ever before and no one in Canada has lower overall taxation than Albertans. They tell us it’s just lazy people who don’t get decent work, or weak people who get addicted to drugs. They tell us the problems lie with our too-expensive health care or our inefficient education. They tell us these things so we never look behind the curtain.

If you’d like to keep ignoring the curtain or want more reasons to blame the other victims, you won’t struggle to find people willing to help with those blinders. If you’d like to see what’s going on behind it and who is actually at fault, then join me here on Tuesdays as we start to peel back the layers behind what’s really going on.

There are systemic truths out there that you deserve to see and understand. To those who will no doubt continue in their attempts to pull the wool over your eyes, as far as this columnist is concerned, your time is up.

(Scott Schmidt is the layout editor at the Medicine Hat News. You can contact him by email at sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com)

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