New study finds income inequality levels in Oakville among worst in Canada


Published September 22, 2023 at 10:42 am

Income equality Oakville analysis wealthy data poor
Income inequality, known for its corrosive effects on health, happiness and community ties, is worse in Oakville than in most Canadian municipalities, according to a new analysis of Statistics Canada data. PEXELS PHOTO

Income equality levels in Oakville are among the worst in Canada, according to a new analysis of Statistics Canada data.

In a national ranking put together by the Local News Data Hub at Toronto Metropolitan University, the Halton Region town ranked 10th for household income equality.

The highest-earning 10 per cent of households in Oakville made five times more than the lowest-earning 10 per cent in 2020.

Oakville is worse than most Canadian municipalities when it comes to income equality, which is known for its corrosive effects on health, happiness, and community ties.

Unfortunately for Gloria Priest, she knows the consequences of being poor in one of Canada’s most unequal places are very real. The Oakville resident said she was well-to-do until she got divorced. Her income would then fall below the poverty line and she had to pick up and move to another neighbourhood.

Now, on the rare occasion when she sees people from her former life, some are kind, some don’t recognize her, and others “make that sniffly look, like I’m unpleasant,” she told the Canadian Press.

With places like Oakville, with significant levels of inequality, high- and low-income residents tend to “become socially isolated among people like themselves,” said Ivan Townshend, a social geographer at the University of Lethbridge.

People of different means have fewer opportunities to cross paths when neighbourhoods separate those who “have” from those who “have not,” Townshend told the Canadian Press. The isolation can make it easier for rich and poor to form ideas about each other based on stereotypes and then blame the other group for social ills, he added.

Income inequality has been linked to a reduced sense of community belonging, greater distrust among residents, more financial worries, and increased anxiety about social status – outcomes all associated with lower levels of happiness and poorer mental and physical health.

Research has also shown there is greater political polarization and increases in theft and vandalism fuelled by desperation and a sense of unfairness.

To compare income inequality across Canada, the Local News Data Hub ranked the country’s 418 municipalities with more than 10,000 people using Statistics Canada’s 2020 Gini index for adjusted after-tax household income.

The Gini index is an internationally recognized tool statisticians use to measure how income is distributed across a society. Income, in this case, considers wages, pension income, investment earnings such as dividends and interest, and government transfers like social assistance.

The number 1 ranked municipality had the highest level of inequality.

The national ranking, which was reviewed by Statistics Canada senior research analyst Xuelin Zhang, points to significant variations among communities. For instance:

– There were major differences in income inequality among Canadian cities with more than 200,000 people. Toronto was ninth overall, Vancouver was 11th, and Montreal was 29th. Mississauga was further down at 64th while nearby Brampton was close to the bottom in 374th place.

– The highest-earning 10 per cent of Brampton households made three times more than the lowest earners. In more unequal cities like Toronto, the top group makes nearly five times more.

– Three other GTA municipalities, all of them just north of Toronto, also had significant levels of income inequality. King Township ranked 7th overall, Aurora was 19th, and Richmond Hill tied with Calgary for 22nd place on the list.

A high median household income created a misconception that a food bank wasn’t needed in Oakville, said Jennifer Russell of the Fare Share Food Bank.

That misconception is changing, she said.

“People don’t get paid enough to afford food anymore,” Russell said, pointing to a surge in clients. Some have not visited the food bank for a couple of years, she said, but now “they’re back again, saying ‘my income can’t keep up with the food bill. I just can’t afford to feed everybody.’”

  • With files from Carly Penrose, The Canadian Press
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