A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?

That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.

The Ontario government is rolling out its basic income pilot project later this year. Roughly speaking, the idea is to provide everyone in a given area—a town, province, or country—a guaranteed set amount of money to meet living expenses, independent of any criteria other than their existence there. While that might sound like the stuff of a socialist’s dream, it’s also been embraced by free-market obsessives, like economist Milton Friedman, who see paying citizens a meagre amount as a way to eliminate welfare programs and undermine the power of the labour movement.

One thorn in the side of any progressive arguing for a universal basic income is the sheer amount of money it would cost to implement; Friedman et. al. have their answer for that, which is that they’d slash other programs to the bone. But if you want to provide a basic income in addition to other social programs, you’re going to need to come up with a lot of money very quickly.

Thankfully for the provincial government, a coalition of anti-poverty groups in the province has just the thing in mind: a maximum income project.

A maximum income is essentially a wage ceiling, a legal limit on how much income an individual can earn.

Next week, the Nova Scotia government will table its budget that is forecast to have no deficit. This is no measure of good government — it was an unnecessary goal achieved with serious cost and sacrifice borne by the less advantaged, families as well as working Nova Scotians.

Over one in five Nova Scotia children lives in family poverty. Welfare incomes remain thousands of dollars below the poverty line and the government is saving money on “special needs” such as bus passes or small, extra diet allowances, cutting people off and robbing people of their dignity.

Thousands of Nova Scotians are without any place to call their own, living on the streets, couch-surfing or staying in shelters. Others are in accommodations that they cannot afford, or are not safe nor adequate nor properly maintained. Meanwhile, still other individuals and families who are housed spend an increasing proportion of their income on rent (including heat), leaving little for food and forcing more of them to go to food banks.

In the past, religious and community groups were the main forces addressing hunger. But, after the economic recession in the early 1980s, and due to budget cuts to federal programs under Ronald Reagan, an entire industry has arisen around providing food to the needy. Meanwhile, chronic hunger persists across the U.S. In fact, the number of food insecure Americans has risen—from 10 percent in 2002 to 13 percent today.

Yes, anti-hunger leaders have been effective at maintaining funding for SNAP [AKA food stamps] and increasing the number of food banks, and federal food programs have remained intact while other anti-poverty programs have been eliminated or slashed. And Andy Fisher, Civil Eats contributor and author of the new book, Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups, does see those things as progress. But, he argues that anti-hunger advocates are missing an essential point: That hunger is not an isolated problem, but the product of much larger economic inequality driven by low wages.

It wasn’t the fact she was poor that embarrassed Candace Perry the most. It was that she had to ask people for something they took for granted — food.

As a single mother with a disability relying on government income assistance, Perry would pick up an emergency food hamper just down the road from her Kitchener home, at House of Friendship. The cost of fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy didn’t always fit into her budget.

“Rent comes out every month unfortunately, and it’s a big chunk,” said Perry. “The healthy stuff is more expensive. Transportation is difficult, too.”

The idea of a minimum or basic income has been around for almost 500 years.

According to the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN — the French word for good), 16th Century humanists such as British author and statesman Thomas Moore first floated the idea as a way to reduce theft, often perpetrated by the poor.

Moore’s contemporary, Italian philosopher Johannes Ludovicus Vives, is considered the “true father” of the idea for suggesting cities pay a basic income to the poor as an efficient way for society to live up to its moral responsibility to care for the disadvantaged.

More recently, economists and activists on the left and right of the political spectrum have supported the idea, including American conservative Milton Friedman, who in the early 1960s saw it as a way to abolish the minimum wage and limit the “welfare state.” His liberal contemporary, John Kenneth Galbraith, championed it as a way to end poverty.

Members of the Hunger Free Manitoba coalition and supporters from various faiths took to the street on Good Friday with a Stations of the Cross march with a difference.

Held annually to mark the last hours of the life of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, this year’s march focused attention on hunger in Manitoba particularly among those living on Disability and Employment and Income Assistance and on the ‘daily struggle of the hungry and homeless in Manitoba’.