Personal income is a touchy subject. It’s typically a private conversation between you and your boss, you and Revenue Canada, you and your bank, and depending on your relationship, you and your significant other.
In my experience, it’s not something we talk about openly at family gatherings or with a coffee group or with a few neighbours down the street. Part of the reason, I suspect, is because it provokes strong feelings in ourselves and in others; something to do with personal status, being seen as someone whose doing OK or not doing OK, about where we sit or seem to sit on the financial totem pole. Some, I’m sure, would deny this but I’m guessing those are few and far between.
I recall people using the term “dirt poor,” which itself is an interesting description of being without money.
If you look at the financial totem pole in Alberta, the income for the bottom 10 per cent has flatlined for more than 30 years. The top 10 per cent have seen their incomes in the last 10 years increased by 50 per cent. In actual dollars the bottom 10 per cent on the totem pole have averaged below $20,000 per year for more than 30 years. In the last 10 years the 10 per cent of the people on top of the totem pole have on average increased their incomes from $150,000 to around $220,000.
Personal income is a touchy and private affair. Though it does provoke strong reactions, it does have social implications that are worth talking about. Where some have a lot and some have little, a dramatic disproportionate amount of people in the bottom 10 per cent end up with jail time unable to pay fines, or have limited education so can’t access the job market extensively or end up in low paying jobs that often does not grant financial stability.
This is not by accident or the result of some moral defect or lack of initiative. “Pull yourself up by you bootstraps” has been response of some. Yet few of us would be anywhere without the support of a family, who already have jobs and education and who offer emotional and financial help and their time. There are people we have very few of these resources.
When the provincial budget is announced in March it will be interesting to see how definitively the government recognizes those who have struggled for years to make ends meet or whether it has tempered the optimism of a year ago with other priorities.