Remaining at the bottom

Posted: 20 December 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

bottom50

There is no stronger indictment of U.S. capitalism than the fact that, over recent decades (especially since 1980), there has been almost no growth for people in the bottom 50 percent of the distribution of income.

As I showed a week ago, according to recent data by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, from 1979 through 2006, the share of pre-tax income going to the bottom 50 percent of U.S. households fell from an already-low 20.1 percent to an even-lower 13.5 percent—while the share of top 1 percent soared, from 11.1 percent to 20.1 percent.

national-50

There’s even a large and growing gap between average (pre-tax) national income and the average of the bottom 50 percent. That ratio increased from 2.5:1 in 1979 to 4:1 in 2014.

Even in absolute terms (illustrated in the chart at the top of the post), the bottom 50 percent has gone nowhere. Their average pre-tax income actually fell from 1979 to 2014 (in real 2014 dollars)— from $16,632 to $16,197. It’s true, households that find themselves in the bottom half have been helped by tax credits and government transfers. But in 2014, that only raised their post-tax income to, on average, $25,045.

And that’s not even the whole story. If we exclude expenditures on medical care (Medicaid and Medicare, including rising prices for medical treatment), that post-tax income falls to $21,293. And if we calculate their cash income (and thus exclude in-kind transfers), it falls to $17,654—an embarrassingly small increase over their pre-tax income of $16,197.

As Piketty, Saez, and Zucman explain,

The aggregate flow of individualized government transfers has increased, but these transfers are largely targeted to the elderly and the middle-class (individuals above the median and below the 90th percentile). Transfers that go to the bottom 50% have not been large enough to lift income significantly. Given the massive changes in the pre-tax distribution of national income since 1980, there are clear limits to what redistributive policies can achieve.

The unequal distribution of income in the United States is now so obscene that, even with government transfers, the bottom 50 percent are forced to struggle to survive on incomes that, in 2014, came to less than 2.5 percent of those in the top 1 percent.

Is it any wonder that the presidential candidate who promised to continue business as usual, to do no more than maintain the existing set of programs, ended up losing?

And, by the same token, does anyone expect the winning candidate, who promised to shake things up on behalf of the working-class, will actually do anything to fundamentally improve the circumstances of those in the bottom 50 percent?

Comments
  1. […] Remaining at the bottom | occasional links & commentary on Insane inequality […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s