This feature was produced by Jeff Fraser, a student in Ryerson University's School of Journalism, in partnership with The Huffington Post Canada.

In the past year the Occupy movement and its rallying cry of “we are the 99 per cent” brought into the limelight the growing gap between the richest and poorest in the United States and the world. In December, columnist Charles M. Blow wrote in the New York Times that income inequality could be “the new global warming.”

Over the last 30 years, the distance between the richest and poorest Canadians has widened considerably. Using different income definitions will slightly change who belongs to Canada’s “one per cent” and “99 per cent,” but the basic story stays the same across a wide breadth of statistics: the richest Canadians make disproportionately more than the poorest, and, more importantly, in the last three decades income for the richest Canadians has increased far faster than it has for the poorest.

INFOGRAPHIC: AN INCOME INEQUALITY PRIMER

Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank says inequality isn’t about “insecurity about not having what others have.”

“What you need to spend to achieve basic goals depends, in a concrete way, on what others spend,” he says. “If you go for a job interview, you want to look good – but that means looking better than the other people who want the same job you do. If they spend more on suits, you’re less likely to get the callback.”

Frank points to education as the clearest example of inequality’s concrete consequences. Elementary and secondary schools with the best quality of education are often concentrated in high-income neighbourhoods. As the income gap widens and rich neighbourhoods become unaffordable for middle- and low-income families, good schools become less accessible.

More at Mind The Gap: How The Rich Are Driving Up Home Prices For Everyone

HOW TO MEASURE ‘INCOME’

There are many different ways to measure how much money people make. The primary source for studying Canadian incomes is Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, which shows how earnings (employment income), market income (employment income plus private pensions, dividends, rental income and home equity), and after-tax income (market income and government supports minus income taxes) are distributed among individuals and economic families.

As of 2009, the average Canadian family had an after-tax income of $60,000, an increase of 16 per cent from the Canadian average of $52,000 in 1980. By contrast, the average income in the highest-earning 10 per cent of families saw a much larger increase of 34 per cent, and the bottom 10 per cent saw an increase of only 11 per cent. In other words, incomes have increased across the board, but the top 10 per cent have pulled ahead of the pack.

PHOTOS: PROVINCES WITH THE WIDEST INCOME GAP

The gap is more exaggerated if we look at only employment earnings for working-age Canadians. The average income that families in the bottom 20 per cent make from employment has decreased by 60 per cent since 1980, whereas the average earnings in the top 10 per cent has grown by 45 per cent.

COMPARING CANADA WITH THE WORLD

Economists often use a number called the Gini coefficient to summarize how much income inequality a country has. A simple way of understanding the Gini coefficient is to look at its maximum and minimum values: a Gini of 0 is perfect equality, meaning everyone in the population takes home an equal share of the national income; a Gini of 1 is perfect inequality, in which only one person in the population takes home 100 per cent of the national income.

In a report released last year by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada’s Gini was estimated to be 0.32 – a middling value compared to 0.37 in the United States, 0.36 in the United Kingdom, 0.29 in France and 0.25 in Denmark. More telling is that in the past decade, Canada’s Gini has risen faster than all but five of the OECD’s 34 countries, climbing at almost double the rate of the United States.

PHOTOS: COUNTRIES WITH THE LARGEST INCOME GAP

To fully understand the income situation in a country, we also have to look at how easy it is for earners to move from one income bracket to another. The most comprehensive study of economic mobility in Canada was done in 2006 by Miles Corak, a researcher at the University of Ottawa, who used administrative data dating back to the 1960s to compare the earnings of a group of Canadian men to the earnings of their fathers. He found that the income bracket the men were born into had relatively little effect on how much they earned, compared to other Western countries.

For instance, a man born to a father who earns in the bottom 10 per cent has a 38 per cent chance of earning above the Canadian average, and a 16 per cent chance of staying at the bottom. By contrast, if you were born in the bottom 10 per cent in the much less mobile U.S., your likelihood of making it into the top half of the earnings distribution is only 30 per cent, and you have a 22 per cent chance of staying at the bottom.

So while the income gap is growing in Canada, it is still comparatively easy to climb the ladder. In fact, Canada’s mobility is on par with Denmark and Norway, which are among the most economically mobile countries in the OECD.

WHY INEQUALITY MATTERS

Using data from 23 countries, British economist Richard Wilkinson has linked inequality to 10 social indicators like life expectancy, teenage births, obesity, homicides, imprisonment and infant mortality rates. Wilkinson says that as the income gap widens, problems related to social status increase – in particular, the “things that are more common at the bottom of the social ladder,” like health problems and crime.

“In a way, the whole picture is very simple,” he says. “All we’re saying is that these problems that people know are related to social status get worse when social status differentiation increases."

Research has shown that increasing inequality leads to income enclaves. In a 2007 study, University of Toronto researcher David Hulchanski found that he could draw distinct borders around neighbourhoods in Toronto that had low, middle and high income. The fraction of Toronto made up of low-income neighbourhoods grew from 19 per cent in 1970 to more than half of Toronto’s total area in 2005, while middle-income neighbourhoods shrank from 66 per cent to 29 per cent.

PHOTOS: WHICH CITIES ARE SEEING THE GREATEST GHETTOIZATION?

Armine Yalnizyan, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and a primary researcher on the CCPA’s “Growing Gap” project, stresses the costs of neighbourhood income disparity.

“Housing takes the biggest bite out of our incomes. People without a lot of money end up living in cheaper places, and cheaper places are geographically specific – they don’t have good transit, good schools, good public spaces, or good retail,” she says. “That has consequences for how our kids get raised.”

COUNTRIES WITH THE LARGEST INCOME GAP

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  • 10. New Zealand

    > Gini coefficient: 0.330<br> > Change in income inequality: +21.8%<br> > Employment rate: 72.3% (6th highest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +2.5% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: +1.1% per year New Zealand performs well by a number of economic indicators, including employment, where it ranks sixth highest out of the 27 OECD countries in the study. Income in New Zealand has increased across the board since the 1980s, but the percentage annual increase among the top decile was more than twice as great as among the bottom decile. Among OECD nations, capital income in New Zealand as a percentage of total household income grew the most for the richest group and decreased substantially for the poorest group.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 9. Australia

    > Gini coefficient: 0.336<br> > Change in income inequality: +8.7%<br> > Employment rate: 72.4% (5th highest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +4.5% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: +3% per year The difference in the annual increase in income between the richest and the poorest in Australia from the mid-1980s to 2008 is one of the largest among all countries in the study. The average annual change in income for the bottom decile was 3%, compared with the top decile's 4.5%. This caused the Gini coefficient to increase 8.7% over those years. Australia has one of the highest minimum wages, as a percentage of average wages, of all the G-20 countries. The country also has a fairly high employment rate.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 8. Italy

    > Gini coefficient: 0.337<br> > Change in income inequality: +9.0%<br> > Employment rate: 56.9% (3rd lowest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +1.1% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: +0.2% per year In Italy, income inequality increased 9% between 1985 and 2008. According to the OECD, earnings for the wealthiest 10% increased an average of 1.1% each year, while earnings for the poorest 10% grew just 0.2% annually. Italy has the third-lowest employment rate among the 27 nations in the study, with just 56.9% of working-age adults holding jobs in 2008. Since 1985, unemployment benefits declined by more than 50% to one of the lowest recipient rates in the OECD.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 7. United Kingdom

    > Gini coefficient: 0.345<br> > Change in income inequality: +7.9%<br> > Employment rate: 70.3% (10th highest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +2.5% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: +0.9% per year The UK had one of the biggest increases in the income gap between the wealthy and the poor over the past two and a half decades. On average, the income of the bottom 10% increased 0.9%, while income for the top 10% grew 2.5% per year. After Israel and Australia, the UK had the third-largest difference between the top decile's annual income increase and the bottom decile's increase. The income ratio of the wealthiest citizens to the poorest citizens is 10 to one.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 6. Portugal

    > Gini coefficient: 0.353<br> > Change in income inequality: n/a<br> > Employment rate: 65.6% (14th highest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +1.1% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: +3.6% per year Despite its high Gini coefficient, Portugal's income inequality has been improving. From the mid-1980s to the late 2000s, the incomes of the country's poorest increased an average 3.6% each year. The incomes of the richest grew only 1.1% annually. The country has increased its efforts to redistribute income since the mid-1980s, such as through benefits for the unemployed.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 5. Israel

    > Gini coefficient: 0.371<br> > Change in income inequality: +13.8%<br> > Employment rate: 60.2% (7th lowest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +2.4% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: -1.1% per year In Israel, the average income of the bottom 10% actually decreased between 1985 and 2008. On average, income of the top 10% increased 2.4% per year. During the same period, income of the poorest 10% declined 1.1% each year -- the worst rate of decline among the 27 nations studied. Only one other country, Japan, saw its bottom decile's income fall as well. According to the OECD, the top 10% of Israel's residents make 14 times more than the poorest 10%.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 4. United States

    > Gini coefficient: 0.378<br> > Change in income inequality: +12.1%<br> > Employment rate: 66.7% (13th highest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +1.9% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: +0.5% per year Inequality in the United States increased significantly from 1985 to 2008, putting it in the fourth-worst spot in the study. As with many other countries in which income inequality has increased, average income has gone up across all income groups since the mid-1980s, but not equally. The income of the wealthiest 10% has greatly outpaced the poorest 10%. The share enjoyed by the top 0.1% in total pretax income quadrupled in the 30 years to 2008.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 3. Turkey

    > Gini coefficient: 0.409<br> > Change in income inequality: -5.8%<br> > Employment rate: 46.3% (the lowest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +0.1% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: +0.8% per year Turkey was one of the few OECD countries to experience a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor, with income inequality improving 5.8% between 1985 and 2008. However, it still has the third-highest income inequality among the countries in this study. Part of Turkey's problem is a relatively low number of government programs to aid the poorest citizens. The average government social expenditure among OECD nations is close to 20% of GDP, while it spends just above 10% -- the third-lowest percentage. The wealthiest 10% of Turkey's residents make 14 times more, on average, than the poorest 10%.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 2. Mexico

    > Gini coefficient: 0.476<br> > Change in income inequality: +5.1%<br> > Employment rate: 60.4% (8th lowest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +1.7% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: +0.8% per year Mexico has one of the highest rates of income inequality. Among all OECD countries, Mexico has the lowest amount of public social expenditure as a percentage of GDP. It also has the lowest unemployment benefit recipient rates. Finally, the country has the lowest minimum wages as a percentage of average wages.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 1. Chile

    > Gini coefficient: 0.494<br> > Change in income inequality: n/a<br> > Employment rate: 59.3% (4th lowest)<br> > Change in income of the rich: +1.2% per year<br> > Change in income of the poor: +2.4% per year Chile is one of the few countries where the income of the poor increased at a higher annual rate than the income of the wealthy, 2.4% to 1.2%. Nevertheless, the South American nation has the worst income inequality among the 27 OECD nations examined. Chile has a particularly high rate of self-employed individuals, primarily because of its large farming class. The income ratio of the top 10% to the bottom 10% is 27 to one.<br> <a href="http://247wallst.com/2011/12/06/countries-with-biggest-spread-between-rich-and-poor/3/" target="_hplink">Read the entire post at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

PROVINCES WITH THE WIDEST INCOME GAP

WHICH CITIES ARE SEEING THE GREATEST GHETTOIZATION?

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  • 8: Quebec City -- 22 per cent

  • 8: Quebec City -- 22 per cent

    With a 22 per cent increase in the gap between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods, Quebec City has seen the smallest growth in neighbourhood inequality. However, the city also saw the largest proportion of neighbourhoods in decline. The numbers suggest some six in 10 neighbourhoods saw their income decline from 1980 to 2005.

  • 7: Winnipeg -- 31.5 per cent

  • 7: Winnipeg -- 31.5 per cent

    Winnipeg saw a 31.5 per cent increase in the gap between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods from 1980 to 2005, with its poorest neighbourhoods suffering a 7.6 per cent decline, while its wealthiest 10 per cent of neighbourhoods saw income grow 24 per cent.

  • 6: Montreal -- 34 per cent

  • 6: Montreal -- 34 per cent

    Montreal saw a 34 per cent increase in the gap between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods from 1980 to 2005, with its poorest neighbourhoods suffering a 10 per cent decline, while its wealthiest 10 per cent of neighbourhoods saw income grow 24 per cent. <em>Correction: An earlier version of this text misidentified Montreal as Winnipeg.</em>

  • 5: Vancouver -- 36.5 per cent

  • 5: Vancouver -- 36.5 per cent

    Vancouver saw a 36.5 per cent increase in the gap between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods from 1980 to 2005, with its poorest neighbourhoods suffering a 10.5 per cent decline, while its wealthiest 10 per cent of neighbourhoods saw income grow 26 per cent.

  • 4: Ottawa -- 37 per cent

  • 4: Ottawa -- 37 per cent

    Ottawa saw a 37 per cent increase in the gap between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods from 1980 to 2005, with its poorest neighbourhoods growing 1.3 per cent in income, while its wealthiest 10 per cent of neighbourhoods saw income grow nearly 36 per cent. Ottawa is unique in that none of its neighbourhood deciles suffered an income decline during the period.

  • 3: Edmonton -- 39 per cent

  • 3: Edmonton -- 39 per cent

    Edmonton saw a 39 per cent increase in the gap between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods from 1980 to 2005, with its poorest neighbourhoods suffering a 7.8 per cent decline, while its wealthiest 10 per cent of neighbourhoods saw income grow 31.5 per cent.

  • 2: Toronto -- 68 per cent

  • 2: Toronto -- 68 per cent

    Toronto saw a 68 per cent increase in the gap between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods from 1980 to 2005, with its poorest neighbourhoods suffering a 5.5 per cent decline, while its wealthiest 10 per cent of neighbourhoods saw income grow 62.5 per cent.

  • 1: Calgary -- 81 per cent

  • 1: Calgary -- 81 per cent

    With an 81 per cent increase in the difference between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods, Calgary wins Canada's ghettoization crown. It's worthwhile to note that Calgary's large increases in income in the wealthiest neighbourhoods has not pulled up its poorest areas, which have seen declines in income on the same scale as low-end neighbourhoods in other Canadian cities.