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Alberta has the richest rich and the poorest poor in Canada

New report highlights dangers and causes of rapidly growing disparity in the province

A new report released this morning by the U of A’s Parkland Institute and the Alberta College of Social Workers says that despite Alberta’s obvious wealth, inequality and disparity in the province are growing faster than almost anywhere else in the country.

The report, titled A social policy framework for Alberta: Fairness and justice for all, comes as the Alberta government continues to consult on what it says will be a comprehensive social policy framework for the province.

“Our concern is that the provincial government will focus almost exclusively on questions of poverty, and will fail to consider the negative impacts that accompany growing inequality and disparity,” says Parkland’s research director Shannon Stunden Bower.

Lori Sigurdson of the Alberta College of Social Workers echoes that sentiment.  “As social workers, we see first-hand the negative impacts of inequality in this province as we work to support Alberta’s most vulnerable and marginalized on a daily basis.”

Using data from StatsCan, the report reaches a number of startling conclusions:
- a full 87% of earnings in the province goes to the top half of families;
- that the top 10% of Alberta families get 28% of after tax incomes, while the bottom 10% of families get only 1.7%;
- the top 1% of Alberta earners have an average income of $675,200 compared to an average of $353,100 for the top 1% nationally;
- in 2009 the median income in Alberta was $68,100, while the median income among Alberta CEOs was just under $2.5 million;
- in 2009, women working full-year full-time earned just 68% of what men earned – tying Alberta with Newfoundland and Labrador as the worst in the country;
- Albertans consistently work longer hours, with less time off and holidays, than almost anyone else in the developed world.

The report’s author, Diana Gibson, points out that some of the reasons for this growing inequality include lower educational attainment, higher levels of self-employment, Alberta’s low minimum wage, inadequate social assistance programs, Alberta’s boom and bust trajectory which disproportionately hurts the poor at both ends of the cycle, and a tax regime that actually reinforces wealth concentration at the top and underfunding of programs rather than progressive redistribution.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations for specific policies and principles that must be included in a social policy framework if the government truly wants to reverse growing inequality and disparity in the province.

The Parkland Institute is a non-partisan public policy research institute in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta.  The report A social policy framework for Alberta  is available for download on the Parkland website at http://parklandinstitute.ca.

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