Labor Day Reports Show Long-Term Income, Wealth Decline

08/31/2012; Tula Connell

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Several new economic reports out in time for Labor Day point to long-term trends that are driving a declining standard of living for America’s middle- and low-income workers. Here’s a quick summary (click on charts to expand).

Middle-class incomes have declined over the past decades. For the past several decades, the share of the economic pie that the middle class receives has decreased and fewer people have earned middle-class incomes, according to the Center for American Progress. “Moreover, the costs of middle-class basics have risen and debt levels have increased.”

The center’s “5 Charts on the State of the Middle Class” offers downloadable versions of each chart. 

The number of low-wage jobs is increasing in the post-recession recovery. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) finds that “[w]hile the job losses during the recession were concentrated in mid-wage occupations, the subsequent employment gains continue to come
heavily in low-paying jobs, reinforcing a rise in inequality that has been shaping the U.S. economy for decades.”

Check out “The Low-Wage Recovery and Growing Inequality.”

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America’s working families have seen a loss in wages, wealth and income over the past decade. The incomes of working people never recovered their 2000 peak during the recovery and expansion that followed the 2001 recession, according to a preview of the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI‘s) State of Working America. “They then fell precipitously following the onset of the Great Recession, declining more than 7 percent ($4,926) between 2007 and 2010.”

The State of Working America preview includes a great set of interactive charts.

Productivity has skyrocketed but wealth has gone to top income earners. Productivity, the amount that a worker produces in an hour, has more than doubled over the past 44 years, says Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Yet from 1979-2007, some 60 percent of the income gains have gone to the 1 percent at the top, with the majority of those gains going to the top 0.1 percent—people who made, on average, $5.6 million per year.

Weisbrot notes these sorry stats in making the case for a minimum wage increase.

Not the cheeriest Labor Day reading. But these facts are worth highlighting as we move into the election season and have the opportunity to change the direction of our nation.

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