Thunder Bay has seen a number of deteriorating social indicators over the last few years which include rising homicide rates, tragic deaths of indigenous people and increasing use of foodbanks. In looking at the causes of what appear to be increased poverty and violence, one might consider that these trends are the result of rising income inequality. Income inequality in both Canada and the United States has been rising over the last few decades and researchers have been drawing links between health status and economic inequality as well as the role of inequality in fostering environments conducive to crime and violence.
We had a talk last week at Lakehead University from Martin Daly whose book Killing the Competition makes the case that most homicides are the result of competition between males over goods that are distributed inequitably. In other words, economic inequality drives the homicide rate and all things given one would expect more unequal societies to have higher crime and homicide rates. Of course, this raises the question as to what income inequality has been like in Thunder Bay over the last few years and whether it too has trended up.
Needless to say, information on income inequality at a CMA level is not easy to obtain or construct. However, there is tax filer data available from Statistics Canada obtained from Revenue Canada and it is possible to obtain annual data on median total tax filer incomes for the top 1 percent as well as the bottom 50 percent and construct a ratio. One can construct a simple dispersion or inequality measure by taking the ratio of the median income of the top 1 percent to the median income of the bottom 50 percent on the tax filer total income distribution. If this ratio goes up over time, it implies increasing income inequality while if it goes down it implies decreasing inequality.
The figure below plots this measure of income inequality for the period 1982 to 2015 for Thunder Bay as well as Greater Sudbury and Ontario. The results are intriguing. In 1982, the median total income of the top 1 percent of tax filers in Thunder Bay was 11.9 times that of the median for the bottom 50 percent - $78,200 versus $6,600. By 2015, the ratio was 12.34 - $236,900 versus $19,200. While income inequality in Thunder Bay has gone up somewhat over time, much of the increase was actually between 1982 and 2001 when the ratio rose from 11.9 to 14.2 and has actually moderated since.
Given that homicide rates in Thunder Bay trended downwards from the early 1980s to 2007 and surged since 2007, there does not seem to be much correlation here. Moreover, Figure 1 also plots the same inequality measure for Greater Sudbury as well as Ontario as a whole. Since the late 1990s, Greater Sudbury has actually been more unequal with respect to this inequality measure than Thunder Bay and yet its homicide rate is now lower. As well, both Thunder Bay and Sudbury have a much more equal distribution of tax filer income than Ontario as a whole which saw its ratio rise from 15.3 in 1982 to peak at 24.9 in 2006 before declining to 22.2 in 2015.
So whatever is disturbing the social fabric of Thunder Bay, income inequality does not appear to be the obvious culprit.