You have class

To what economic class do you belong? Tick one:
•Poorest
•Lower-middle
•Middle
•Upper-middle
•Richest
Before you read on, do it, really. Mark where you think you fit.
Social status used to be linked to income. How much one earned or owned was related to where and in what type of dwelling one lived, the amount and kind of schooling one had, what work or career one aspired to, with whom one associated, what one read, how one dressed and talked, where and how much one travelled.
That’s no longer true in our country. Social class distinctions are blurred. People who earn a lot of money and live in beautiful homes “dress down,” have poor manners, and speech habits just as others do. Friendships span social class and racial differences more easily than ever.
People of all incomes travel lots, and associate commonly and easily.
But economic class appears to separate society more and more. Here’s how.
Maclean’s magazine divided Canada’s population into five groups of 20 percent each. Indexed to constant ’98 dollars, 11 years ago average incomes for those 20 percent groups were:
•Poorest–$10,388
•Lower-middle–$31,427
•Middle–$48,776
•Upper-middle–$67,790
•Richest–$114,178
By 1998, those averages were:
•Poorest–$8,627
•Lower-middle–$27,486
•Middle–$46,835
•Upper-middle–$68,505
•Richest–$124,681
By ’98, the poorest 20 percent took home 17 percent less than they did in 1989. The lower-middle group lost 13 percent while the middle class was four percent poorer.
The upper-middle gained one percent and the richest were doing better by nine percent in ’98.
I didn’t want to believe that the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. Clearly it’s true.
How much of the country’s wealth, measured by the total incomes, is held by the richest 20 percent?
To calculate it, I multiplied each of Canada’s population five groups of 20 percent by their average income and totalled all five. In 1989, the wealthiest 20 percent of Canadians had 42 percent of the money; by 1998, it was 45 percent.
In 1989, the poorest 20 percent had 3.8 percent of Canada’s total people income; by 1998, that was down to three percent.
Many of the poorest 20 percent have steady jobs, well-kept homes, read books, surf the Internet, and live frugally. Only a fraction of the poorest group are on income supplements.
It’s my impression that when asked about their socio-economic status, by far most Canadians answer “Middle” ( what did you record?) Economically, that’s not true but we may not realize it. The belief tends to blind us to real and increasing inequities.
Never mind how the poor get or stay poor, and how the ambitious or lucky get their wealth–that a great disparity is not good. Poverty in the midst of plenty breeds increasing discontent.
That, in turn, boosts social unrest and violence. It does not make for a stable economy, nor for an effective democracy. What to do? Food banks, school breakfasts, individual charity, even workfare won’t fix this!
In most of my columns, I propose something individuals can do to help create better futures. This time, I just don’t know.
I do believe it’s important. If you have suggestions, e-mail linda@queticocentre.com

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