Yes, but a relevant fix on a kernel driver doesn't make you any money at all, whereas some shitty iOS fleshlight app can make you rich and famous. Just ask the guys at Rovio. This is one of the fundamental problems. Programmers have to make ends meet too, and there's apparently no shortage of fools willing to spend money on some stupid iOS/Android app.
I wonder if, "a few years ago" as you put it, the smart people working on some product in Linux distros were still young, in college, and didn't have many bills to worry about. Nowadays, they've gotten older, are married, have more expenses, etc., so they've had to concentrate on jobs which earn them money. Also, it does seem to me that the cost of living has risen greatly in the US in the last 15 years, largely thanks to the housing bubble. Back when I was in college in the 90s, it was easy to find a nice apartment for $400, or share an apartment for $200, and gas was $1/gallon. Now gas is $4/gallon and you're looking at a minimum of $1200/month to rent anything decent; you might get something for $600 if you rent a room in someone's basement and get a PO box because your landlord refuses to let you have your name associated with the address and receive mail there.