Toronto's suburbs are becoming poorer. This is one of the many worrying income conclusions made by the Toronto Star in its look at recently released 2006 census data this weekend.
"We are becoming a city of the servant class - who earn servant wages and live in the city's northern suburbs - and the downtown elite who run everything," said University of Toronto urban studies professor David Hulchanski.
Perhaps the most concerning conclusion of all is the continued growth in income disparity between the classes:
Between 1980 and 2005, median earnings for the top 20 per cent of full-time, full-year earners in Canada increased by 16.4 per cent. By contrast, median earnings in the bottom one-fifth fell 20.6 per cent. Meanwhile, median earnings of those in the middle stagnated, inching from $41,348 in 1980 to just $41,401 when calculated in 2005 dollars.
I remember house shopping in Toronto a few years ago. Me, my wife and our four kids went to see a stacked house in the downtown, Liberty Village area.
The house was two bedrooms, with one of those optimistically named 'kitchen dining room' combos featuring a bathroom sized kitchen and a children's play set for a table and chairs. Asking price, $360,000.
My real estate agent just shook her head and ushered us out, complaining, "They're squeezing out the middle class."
She was right. What would my family have done if we'd have moved there? Apart from bumping into each other all day, we would have become house poor, dependent upon credit to pay the bills with little or no money for such luxuries as going out for a drink or, God forbid, taking a vacation now and again.
The middle class is disappearing. For those of us still clinging to our modest disposable income status, those middle class staples of secure, well-paying jobs and manageable expenses are slipping from our grasp. And for those of us trying to work our way up to middle income status, the rungs on the ladder are growing further and further apart.
In the corporate world, the solution to the recession-induced cost-containment dilemma is to cut out middle manager jobs and salaries, and scale back the benefits for low-end workers. As for the high-end workers, well ... how many CEO salary pay cuts have you read about recently?
Worse still is the fact that the middle class is still paying for everything. For all this talk of corporate tax cuts and 'trickle down' economics, Canada's corporations still receive preferential treatment when it comes to tax filing time.
One of the more alarming features of the Star article was the graphic depiction of our changing income trends (not available on-line), a series of colored graphs showing the income spread across Toronto's inner city regions and suburbs. From median income earner suburban dwellers in the 1970s and downtown poverty, to a 180 degree flip today.
These days, apart from isolated pockets of low-income areas in Toronto's core, and high-income areas clustered around Yonge Street north of Eglinton, all of the low income earners in the GTA are sequestered in the suburbs.
What does all this mean? Well, the income disparity growth is by far the more worrying picture. A clear link has been made in the past between crime, poor health and poverty. But as we all know, social unrest only deepens as the income gap widens.
I recall the UK recession of the early '80s. Riots became the norm. Young people, enraged by their lack of prospects and the 'fat cat' salaries of the nationƏs BBC elite took to the streets to showcase their distress.
Put simply, people don't like being poor with no prospects, but what irks people more is watching five percent of the population swan around with bulging wallets, seemingly impervious to the misery and hurt swirling around them.
One of US President Barack Obama's first acts in charge was to suspend salary increases for $100k White House earners. He also heavily chastised Wall Street's fat cat CEOs in his first days in office.
Well, that's a start. But it will take some real, concrete, lasting measures to stop our slide into a permanent us and them society.
Hilary Clinton, in her bid for the Presidency last year, talked of glass ceilings for women. These same barriers exist between the classes today. If we are going to lift them, we need to address income fairness, and quickly, before these barriers slam down for good.
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