At the start of December a new study of 34 countries showed that income inequality is at a record high among industrialized nations and that the gap between Canada’s rich and poor, although not as bad as in the US, is above the 34-country average.
The OECD research shows that the average income of the top 10% of Canadians in 2008 was $103,500 – 10 times that of the bottom 10%, who had an average income of $10,260. Back in the early 1990s the top 10% made only 8 times more what the bottom 10% made. The richest 1% of Canadians meanwhile, saw their total share of income rise to 13.3% from 8.1% in 1980. At the same time, the top federal marginal income rates dropped from 43% in 1981 to 29% in 2010 so the richest Canadians got to keep considerably more of their earnings.
Of the 34 countries compared, the US has the fourth worst record and Canada the 12th worst but a September study by the Conference Board of Canada reported that income inequality has been rising faster in Canada than in the US since the mid 1990s.
If you are a professional driver, of course, these numbers are just proof of what your eyes and pocketbook have been showing you for years. It’s a sad commentary on the plight of the US motor carrier industry, for example, that drivers make no more today in real terms (taking inflation into account) than they did in 1990. While I don’t have comparable figures for Canada to share with you, Statistics Canada records show that average weekly earnings (all employees, including overtime) in the Canadian for-hire trucking industry in 2001 was $687. By 2010, despite some of greatest growth years the Canadian economy has ever experienced, weekly earnings had climbed to $851.
The numbers I’ve mentioned are not the result of the recent recession; although weekly earnings in Canadian trucking did hit their peak in 2008 they averaged just $859. Wages in trucking have remained depressed through both good times and bad. It’s a mirror into what has been happening in our country overall as income inequality has increased during both recessionary and boom periods and despite employment growth during the boom periods.
Growing income disparity is a concern (among both protesters in the Occupy movement and prominent figures such as Warren Buffett) because a growing wage gap actually hurts everyone. Countries with greater income inequality tend to see shorter, less sustained periods of economic growth, according to a paper published by the International Monetary Fund last fall.
For trucking, the consequences are even more immediate. We need to ask ourselves why it is that despite high unemployment rates across North America, we still face a driver shortage? And then shippers, carriers and government must come together to figure out how to make the driving profession an attractive one once again because trucks don’t drive themselves and an advanced trading nation such as Canada can’t survive without trucking.
With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics. All posts by Lou Smyrlis