Hamilton's rich are getting richer while the rest of the city's residents are staying the same according to new numbers on income distribution.

The pay cheques of the top one per cent of earners — people who make more than $400,000 — have increased by 47 per cent since 1982, shows a new report from the Social Planning and Research Council.

In contrast, the bottom 90 per cent who average around $31,200 — are making only two per cent more than we were in 1982 when adjusted for inflation.

The Rich and the Rest of Us
A Forum on  Jobs, Inequality and the Future of Ontario

Wednesday, Oct. 16
Doors at 6 p.m; Dinner at 6:30 p.m.; Town Hall Forum 7:30 p.m.

The Lincoln Alexander Centre
160 King St. E.

Free event

It shows that wealth distribution is unequal in the city, said Sara Mayo, a social planner with Hamilton’s Social Planning and Research Council. She co-authored the report, The Rich and the Rest of Us, with Deirdre Pike.

“It’s not so much the absolute income that matters,” Mayo said. “It’s the distribution of that income and the fairness of that distribution.

Hamilton CMA has 540 millionaires 

“Countries that do best aren’t the ones with the most income. It’s the ones with the highest income equality.”

The report used 2010 Statistics Canada data for the Hamilton census metropolitan area, which also includes Burlington and Grimsby, comparing it to data from 1982.

The numbers show that there are 540 people who make an average of $1,269,900 in Hamilton – the city’s top 0.1 per cent. There are 5,380 people in the top one per cent – those who make an average of $406,300.

The top 10 per cent earn an average of $143,900. Their income has increased 27 per cent since 1982. There are 483,935 Hamiltonians in the bottom 90 per cent.

The inequality happens Canada-wide, said Mike Veall, a McMaster University economist.

Top earners demanding more

His numbers for the country show that the top 0.1 per cent have enjoyed an income boost of about 150 per cent since 1986, while the top one per cent sit around 70 per cent and everyone else around 20 per cent.

As for why this is happening, there are a lot of theories, he said.

One is that top earners benefit more from modern technology. Another is that the numbers are influenced by changes to corporate governance structure. Veall isn’t convinced of either of them.

It could be that corporate culture has changed, Veall said. In previous generations, corporate stakeholders may have balked at CEOs making high salary demands.

It could be that “somehow, our cultural restraint has been relaxed,” he said. “I don’t know that any of these explanations describe very well what’s happened, but we’re almost sure it’s happened.

“Most of us have noticed that if you work in an organization, the people near the top seem to have gotten salary increases that are significantly greater than the people at the bottom or middle of the organization.”

Harder to get ahead

It can have negative impacts in the form of high earners having undue political influence, Veall said. Income inequality also makes it harder for those at the bottom to obtain services they need to get ahead, such as public education.

“We want a society where someone who is born from a less advantageous position will still be able to contribute as fully as possible,” he said.

The council will host a public forum on jobs, inequality and the future of Ontario at the Lincoln Alexander Centre at 160 King St. E. on Wednesday.

There will be a dinner at 6:30 p.m. and a live town hall forum at 7:30 p.m. The event is free.

The session will be moderated by Ron Charles of CBC News. Pike will speak, as will James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees.