The rich get poorer

New data shows the richest of the rich actually got relatively poorer in Canada during the recession, while the other 99 per cent made some gains.

But experts say that's to be expected when stock markets sink, and there is no sign that the rapidly deteriorating income inequality that Canada has experienced over the past decade is about to reverse course.

"This is likely temporary. If you look at the long-term trend, this is a blip," said economist Mike Veall from McMaster University who has been leading the country's research on income inequality.

In Canada and the United States, he said, "both have a surge in income inequality that has been offset, a little bit, by the recession reducing the top income share in both countries by a small amount over the last two years."

After a generation of intense income increases that saw the super-rich consolidate their grip on Canadian earnings, the top one per cent of Canadians took home 11 per cent of total income in 2009, Statistics Canada says.

That's a decline from the 12 per cent they pocketed in 2008 and the 13.8 per cent peak seen in 2007, falling back to levels last seen in 2000, says Brian Murphy, Statscan's chief of income research.

By contrast, in 1982, the top one per cent claimed a 7.4 per cent share of total income.

In 2009, it took total income of about $200,000 to be in the top one per cent in 2009, Murphy added. Income of about $100,000 could buy someone a place in the top five per cent.

The agency did not release a formal report on income inequality in 2009, but provided the figures in response to questions from The Canadian Press.

It's the first time the agency has released up-to-date income inequality information about the effects of the recession, but details are not yet available.

Murphy took a sample of 20 per cent of all tax filers in 2009 to reach his conclusions.

But it's probably cold comfort for the protesters rallying against income inequality across cities in the United States, and now Canada.

The top one per cent in Canada have seen small setbacks in their gains before, notably during the 1990s recession and the tech wreck of the early 2000s, says Veall. But the general trend since 1980 has been relentlessly upwards.

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