But what of the remaining 99 per cent?
In keeping with a recent Oxfam International report that projected that more than half of all wealth will fall under control of the most prosperous one per cent by next year, Canada’s billionaires can expect to get richer than ever.
“It’s not the doomsday predictions everyone’s talking about,” said Charles Lammam with the Fraser Institute, a think tank that has received funding from U.S. oil barons Charles and David Koch.
Good news for the financial outlook of the 99 per cent is a matter of perspective, said Philip Cross with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a research centre headed by a former president of the conservative Civitas Society.
“Clearly, the middle class is not keeping up with the one per cent. But is it important that they’re keeping up with the one per cent?” Cross asked. “Or is it important that the middle class is doing well in its own right?”
Topping that group, Canada’s one-percenters earned at least $ 191,000 per year, Statistics Canada says.
In the same period, earners in the third quintile — a segment that could be slotted within the middle class — took in $ 39,900 in 2011, up 3.9 per cent. Collectively, the three arguably middle class subgroups increased their earnings by an average 3.6 per cent in that four-year period.
The cut-off for qualifying as the poorest half of Canadian tax filers in 2012 was $ 31,000, according to David Hulchanski, the principal investigator at the University of Toronto’s Neighbourhood Change partnership.
Meanwhile, the median income of the bottom 50 per cent was just $ 15,300 in 2012, he said.
If the middle class is being “hollowed out,” Statistics Canada’s numbers tell a different story, he argues.
Cross noted that the median net worth for family units — defined as the combined assets of two or more co-habiters, after clearing debt — has shot up.
“In fact, the net worth held by the middle income quintiles rose faster than the top income quintile in Canada,” he said, “partly because we don’t have the extremes of wealth you see in the U.S. with a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg.”
‘The middle class is actually benefiting disproportionately than the rest of the country.’– Philip Cross, Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute
“This contradicts the whole narrative out there that wealth is only going to the rich people,” Cross said. “This shows that the middle class is actually benefiting disproportionately than the rest of the country.”
While the top 20 per cent of family units still owned 67.4 per cent of Canada’s net worth in 2012, their share was down by 1.8 percentage points from seven years earlier. The bottom quintile remained stagnant.
“It’s a disincentive,” she said. “What’s the point in saving if your rate of return is so low and wages aren’t growing?”
Without home ownership or assets, prospects for that poorest segment to rise on the income ladder don’t look promising, added Andrew Jackson, senior policy adviser with the Broadbent Institute, a think tank chaired by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.
“Certainly there’s a lot of particularly younger people whose debt outweighs their assets, and then the bottom 10 per cent have zero wealth. They have more debt,” he said.
“There will be much more insistence for employers to train and raise skills rather than to use cheap labour.”
There was more hopeful news for the 99 per cent last November.
Statistics Canada’s study of high-income trends found that for the first time in three decades, there was “a prolonged period” of six years between 2006 and 2012 “in which the total income shares of the bottom 90 per cent, 95 per cent and 99 per cent of Canadian tax filers rose or stabilized.”
The top one per cent, meanwhile, lost ground in 2012, taking 10.3 per cent of total income, which was a six-year low and a drop from the previous year’s 10.6 per cent share.
That’s not to say they’re struggling by any means.
“The upper one per cent are still leaving the rest of us in the dust, and there’s no sign their incomes are plateauing at all,” said David Gray, an economics professor at the University of Ottawa.
“You need not shed a tear for them.”