Income Inequality and how the middle class has been screwed
Cash money isn’t the only way workers are compensated, of course – health insurance, retirement-account contributions, tuition reimbursement, transit subsidies and other benefits all can be part of the package. But wages and salaries are the biggest (about 70%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and most visible component of employee compensation.
Wage stagnation has been a subject of much economic analysis and commentary, though perhaps predictably there’s little agreement about what’s causing it (or, indeed, whether the BLS data adequately capture what’s going on). One theory is that rising benefit costs – particularly employer-provided health insurance – may be constraining employers’ ability or willingness to raise cash wages. According to BLS-generated compensation cost indices, total benefit costs for all civilian workers have risen an inflation-adjusted 22.5% since 2001 (when the data series began), versus 5.3% for wage and salary costs.
Other factors that have been suggested include the continuing decline of labor unions; lagging educational attainment relative to other countries; noncompete clauses and other restrictions on job-switching; a large pool of potential workers who are outside the formally defined labor force, neither employed nor seeking work; and broad employment declines in manufacturing and production sectors and a consequent shift toward job growth in low-wage industries.
Sluggish and uneven wage growth has been cited as a key factor behind widening income inequality in the United States. A recent Pew Research Center report, based on an analysis of household income data from the Census Bureau, found that in 2016 Americans in the top tenth of the income distribution earned 8.7 times as much as Americans in the bottom tenth ($109,578 versus $12,523). In 1970, when the analysis period began, the top tenth earned 6.9 times as much as the bottom tenth ($63,512 versus $9,212).
Income includes the revenue streams from wages, salaries, interest on a savings account, dividends from shares of stock, rent, and profits from selling something for more than you paid for it. Income inequality refers to the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population. In the United States, income inequality, or the gap between the rich and everyone else, has been growing markedly, by every major statistical measure, for some 30 years.
The chart below is for 2015 and the income gap has increased since then in large part to the recent income tax adjustment.
Final posting on this topic next week