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Friday, November 6, 2015

Uprooting Inequality

       Uprooting Inequality     

This essay was published at The Real News Network, see here.
Their "Economy" section provides quality interviews from some of my favorite economists. The INET does so also, The Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Inequality of income and wealth has set in like a deep rot undermining the foundation of our society and economy. Uprooting it will not be simple. 

I enjoy numbers and think they explain better than anything the problem, so bear with me. “If wages had kept up with productivity over the last three decades your pay would be closer to:” states the Economic Policy Institute web page, and then one types in an income amount.
An income of $20,000 would be $32,576, a 63% increase;
an income of $40,000 would be $61,055, up 53%;
an income of $60,000 would increase 40% to $83,728,
and an income of $80,000 would be $101,782, up 27%.
The median worker income for 2014 was $28,851 states the Social Security Administration (SSA), that would be $44,357 states the EPI. The Congressional Budget Office issued a report on income distribution in 2011, revealing that $93,900 was the average household income, and adjusting for inflation it is now $99,000. And adjusting to find average worker income, each worker contributes $80,379 to the national  income — mean average. The SSA report shows the lower-earning 45% of U.S. workers earn less than $25,000, and the average income for this 45% is $10,523. The lower-earning 45% of workers earn in wage income about 6% of the total national income. Even though this seems unbelievable, you can do the simple math by following the steps in footnote below. 

It’s depressing, isn’t it? The United Nations issued its Human Development Index and found the U.S. ranked 5th among all 187 nations of the world. The U.N. also issued an index adjusted for inequality in which the U.S. drops to the 28th rank. Who would know that 31% of the U.S. population live in households with "zero or negative non-home wealth", or that 50% lived in homes with less than $10,000 in "non-home wealth"? (see Table 1 on page 56)  Especially when the net worth of all households is about $687,000. (See Flow of Funds report, page 2, and divide by 124 million households.) Or that 44% of the adults live in “liquid asset poverty”, or that 44% of U.S. children are being raised in families that are low income or poor? 
As a result, millions of lives are damaged, and a few unfortunate ones are destroyed.

Reversing this baked-in, nearly invisible condition will not be easy, but it is the political imperative of our time. Money is power and our political institutions have been corrupted. It will take education and a collective determination to readjust the flow of monetary resources. 

                      Remedies to Tame Inequality                 

Of the remedies put forth, those that raise wage income are the most promising: 1) create public jobs directly or through infrastructure improvement projects; 2) stronger and clearer labor union rights; 3) increasing the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit. In the late 1990s, during Clinton’s last term, the employment to population ratio reached its historical high, workers became scarce and employers raised wages. The employment to population ratio (E/P ratio) for all workers is at a 31 year low, and for prime working age workers it is at a 29 year low (see here and here). Using this scale, the E/P ratio, indicates a truer picture of the labor market than the usual unemployment rate which varies drastically because of labor non-participation, and the figure misleads the public into thinking the labor market is recovering. It is far from recovered. If we take the norm ratio for E/P to be the 20 year average, from 1986 to 2006, and calculate how far today we are from this norm, then we need perhaps 10 million jobs to come to the normal 20 year average E/P ratio. See below, in this essay, about the labor market. Bernie Sanders' proposal to spend $3.8 trillion over ten years is the only political solution that comes close to restoring and employing our workers. See this article, What Would Bernie Sanders Do?, at Dollars and Sense magazine. 

The Economic Policy Institute ( has over the decades become the nation’s strongest advocate for workers, and they present eleven proposals that will raise wages. The renown economist Joseph Stieglitz has just released the book Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy. He details the institutional changes needed to uproot inequality. These deal with corporate governance, tax laws, labor laws, trade, and other concerns. Ellen Dannin has written about reforming the labor laws in Taking Back the Workers’ Law. The American Prospect has a book review of Thomas Geoghegan's book Only One Thing Can Save Us, see here. Geoghegan advocates for renewed labor rights to organize. And Salvator Babones has presented sixteen solutions for 2016 in his book Sixteen for ’16. And my favorite solution is found in Phillip Harvey’s report Back to Work, proposing a government direct employment program. For an investment of $180 billion a year we could raise the employment to population ratio for prime working age workers, age 25 to 54, back to its high of 2000. This  would raise wage income for 80% of workers (who are nonsupervisory workers) in the U.S. 

I do not wish to snow readers under a blizzard of numbers, but two more examples are very telling. The first deals with wealth. The average private household savings now is $691,000, and only 10% of households reach or surpass this level. The second deals with income. The total combined market income of the top-earning 1% of taxpayers is greater (16.7% of all market income) than the market income of 54% of taxpayers (16.4% of all market income). Market income is income before taxes and before government transfers. The 54% who make less than $50,000 a year earn a combined total less than the 1% who earn over $500,000 a year. The average income of the top 1% is 65 times greater than that of the average income of the lower-earning 54%. This is data from the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, 2014, see here, page 30

The Bureau of Labor statistics says the “median weekly earnings of the nation's 110.4 million full-time wage and salary workers were $803 in the third quarter of 2015,” and that equals $41,756 a year. The EPI web page would convert that amount to $63,259, except that inequality distorted the economy.

I packed a lot of information into this short article. The take-away is: Progress at this point is not necessarily growth of total output, the GDP, but is a fairer distribution of resources. This excessive inequality is a blemish on the nation.


Notes: calculating 6% of national income.
Determine $12.7 trillion as total national income, at Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation report, page 30.   
Multiply by .06. Answer $762 billion. 
For workers earning below $25,000 a year, see the SSA report. 
Add the “net compensation” figures for the below $25,000 groups. 
It comes to $748,994,000,000. 
Divide national income, $12.7 trillion into $749 billion.  
Answer 6%.  
I think the essay called Overview, July 2015 is the best summary of this blog. 
Here is a graphic of Labor's Share of Income. It comes from the University of Texas Inequality Project, see here, page 34.
Note that the lower, dark share represents the lower-earning 90% of workers. The 90% received, between 1943 and 1980, in the range of 56% of total income. In 2013 its share appears at 38%, a drop of 18%. The 2014 total income was $12.7 trillion according to the Congressional Joint Tax Committee, and 18% of that is $2.286 trillion, divided among 112 million households (90% of total households) equals $20,483 per household. All this confirms the first paragraph above, the Economic Policy Institute's estimate of what incomes would be had they matched growth in productivity as they had for 30 years, 1946 to 1976.


To take this a little further, a look at State of Working America's table, Income 2.4, (SWA) shows that 80% of households earned 27.2% of all income in wages, $3.455 trillion. That is an average wage of $34,828 for the 99 million households in the lower-earning 80%. (One must multiply 54.3% by 50.1%, wage share of total income by the share of wage income to the lower-earning 80%.) In an economy with mean average household income at $99,300, when the lower-earning 80% are earning 35% of the average for all, you have gross, excessive inequality, and it's damaging to all. 

    What if Income Were Distributed More                                          
What if our economy distributed 60% of its income among the middle 60% of households instead of today's 40.5%?
The SWA report distributes 40.5% of income to the middle 60%. 
The CBO report distributes 41.3% as market income distribution. 
The CBO report distributes 44.9% as after-tax income distribution.
The  ideal  per quintile distribution might be
7%, 15%, 20%, 25%, 33%.
-- 60% to the middle 60%. 
But we have in reality the following distribution: 
4%, 8%, 13%, 19%, 56%.  
 -- 40.5% to the middle 60% --
(this array from SWA Income, Table 2.4)
2.2%, 7.3%, 13.0%, 21.0%, 58.1% 
-- 41.3% to the middle 60% -- from CBO market income 2011
9.4%, 10.8%, 14.2%, 19.9%, 47.3% 
-- 44.9% to the middle 60% -- from CBO after-tax income 2011 (these two last arrays come from this CBO report on after-tax income distribution, Table 7, see "data underlying figures, xls, Table 7)
I think the CBO after-tax income distribution is most meaningful and accurate. I am suggesting that 44.9% to the middle 60% of households should be enlarged to 60% of total income. A 15.1% gain for these households would increase their incomes across the board by $1.9 trillion or $25,775 per household for all 74 million households. The median income for all households would be near $78,000. The EPI web page "How much should you be making?" shows that with an income of $53,000, close to the median, "your pay would be closer to" $77,007.
  This was the norm between 1946 and 1976. 

     A Paradigm Shift   Robert Kuttner has a recent article, "The New Inequality Debate" that offers a paradigm shifting view of the role of inequality. He says, "THIS REVISIONISM HAS HUGE implications for economic theory, for possible remedies, and for politics. If greater inequality does not reflect market efficiencies, then market distributions of income are not efficient. And policies that produce greater equality will, at worst, do no damage to economic growth—and quite possibly will improve it." 
Translation: inequality hinders an economy from reaching full potential. Everyone, especially low-paid workers, are hurt. The policy of full employment, government as the employer of last resort, would "quite possibly improve" economic efficiency. Not to mention providing meaningful work to willing workers whom the private sector has no use for. Kuttner's article offers much food for thought, and if the reader has a burning desire to probe the most advanced thinking on inequality, this is a good beginning. 

     The Unemployment Story, again. 
                           Not part of the above essay. 

Want to read a great article on employment, just out today, November 6, 2015?  See the EPI article by Elise Gould, explaining why restricted expansion of government employment has been the cause of a lackluster recovery. You could say that Reagan had it right, and he expanded the national debt from 25% of GDP to 48%. He proved, not that deficits don't matter, but that they are a great investment, in jobs and health, that can be paid off, if we don't lower taxes indiscriminately. In 2000 about 20% of GDP was collected as federal revenue, and in 2009 14.6%, the result of Bush II's tax cuts. Bush II left the country with the worst economy since 1933. The Great Recession officially lasted 18 months, the first 14 were under G.W. Bush. Since 2009 the Republicans have been rejecting all attempts to increase public spending, direct stimulus proposals, and all tax increases.
An additional 3.3 million jobs would have been created had we pursued a policy similar to Reagan's. Instead of having 22.0 million government employees we would have 25.3 million. The BLS has a graph showing the government employment here. To employ 3.3 million at $40,000 per job would cost $132 billion a year, about a 5% increase in federal spending excluding Social Security expenses. Also less than a 1% in spending as a percentage of GDP, which would require increasing federal revenue (taxes) from 17.5% to 18.5% of GDP. For comparison, 20.0% was the figure for revenues as a percentage of GDP for year 2000. See here.

Here's the telling graph:

And here's a graph comparing growth post-recession since 1973:
nonfarm employment
Instead of today's 143 million employed there would be 158 million. What would that have done for the level of wages? They would have increased across the board, all your neighbors would have greater economic security. I wonder about my friends who are dubious about the power of good economics. Would you personally feel better if wages were at the level mentioned at the very top of the essay? No, say most of my friends! Most Americans give too little weight to good economic policy. Their children will be the ones who take the mantel for change.

Since January, 2008, private sector employment is up 4% or 4 million jobs, from 115,977,000 to just over 120 million. But, it dropped like a rock, 2008 to 2010, from 116 million to 107 million, roughly. Obama became President in the middle of this awful job disappearance when nearly 15 million lay offs occurred, and 8.8 million were permanent. If we had repeated the growth rate of the 1980s, from January 2008 onwards, then there would be 20 million additional jobs, not just 4 million new jobs since January, 2008. No, there would be not the current 142 million but 162 million.
How did Reagan do it? Public employment was part of the solution. Between 1981 and 1989 public employment increased by 8.6%, up 1.4 million, In contrast, since January 2009, Obama's inauguration, it has declined by 2.6%, down 591,000 (see here, bls data). That's a differential of 2 million public jobs.
Reagan in 8 years created almost 15 million private sector jobs, Obama, between 2009 and October 2015, nearly 7 years, 9.7 million. But that is deceptive since he came into office during a huge cascade of job losses. Since Dec. 2009, when job losses ended, some 13.4 million private sector jobs have been added (see bls data here). Obama is on track to creating a net 11.5 million private sector jobs in his 8 year presidency, even after losing almost 9 million in the recession. Add the missing 2 million from a cut back in public job growth, 13.5 million, it's comparable to Reagan's term -- except the 2 million is missing.
But Obama's term ends 15 months from today. He has time to match the Reagan record. Except -- and it's a big EXCEPT -- the employment to population ratio is at a 38 year low, and for ages 25 to 54, it's at a 31 year low. And the debt to income ratio for households, and the entire economy, is much higher, weakening the economy.
 Admittedly that last paragraph was too complex. On December 2, 2015, I wrote a comment on the Bernie Sanders' proposal to create and infrastructure program. Here is the comment:
Another article at Dollars and Sense Magazine lays out the Sanders' plan; it amounts to $3.8 trillion over 10 years, that's $380 billion a year for 10 years.
So that is $105 billion more in one year than Clinton's total program over five years. Clinton's plan is 7% the size of Sanders' plan. I hope this registers on our minds. 
Sanders' plan is also a full employment plan. It will add 4.5 million to 7 million more jobs to the economy, enough to bring the employment to population ratio up to the 2007 level. The E/P ratio is now at a 38 year low. With full employment wages rise as employers are pressured to raise wages to keep employees from taking higher paid work. So  80% of the workers will benefit. This plan is the biggest and best thing about the Sanders' candidacy in my opinion. The Sanders' plan is not all infrastructure, it is also universal pre-K, Social Security enhancement, college tuition, paid leave from work for illness and family necessities, youth jobs, and private pensions, according to the article at D and S. It will require increasing federal revenues from 17% of GDP to 18.5%, well below the revenue amount, 20.0%, in year 2000 I write the blog Economics Without Greed, 
The article I contributed to compares the Sanders' plan with the Hillary Clinton plan, see here

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Labor Day, 2015

23.6 % of the U.S. labor force,
nearly one in four workers, 
or 39 million American workers,
are either
unemployed, under-employed involuntarily, or working full-time and year-round for poverty wages (1)  -- see graph below

46 % of workers in 2013 earned less than $25,000 for the year (see reference 2 below).  The poverty threshold for 2014 for a four person family was $24,008. the average yearly income for 46 % of workers is $12,365 (#2 below). Two average workers earning below the median would earn less than the poverty level for 2014. Most researchers say this official poverty rate is much too low.  The U.S. Census states (page 6) that of Poor Americans age 18 to 64, half are working poor, this is 13 million. 13 million is also 9%, or 1 in 11, of daily workers. the combined income of half of u.s. workers totals less than 8 % of national income. only 18 % of daily workers are classified as part-time workers. 82% are full-time. 
Median worker income — $28,031 in 2013 (2) 

                     46 % of workers earned annually less than $25,000, just above 
                            the poverty level for a family of four   (2)
                            The typical family of four had about $63,000 in expenses (3)
                             USA today says that $58,491 is the annual expenses for a 4
                             person family. 
                            44 % of u.s. children live in low income or poor families (4)
                             with incomes below $47,248 per year, about double the 
                             official poverty level  
average worker income — $79,183 (5)
Average household income — $99,618 (6)
                               extremely high incomes raise the average. Ditto for wealth.
Average household savings, 2015 — $691,000

median household savings, 2010 — $77,300 (8) 
                   31% of households have zero or negative 
                    “non-home” savings     (9)
                   50% of households have less than $10,000 in
                   “non-home” saving (9)

(1) National jobs for all coalition, (employment) september 2015
(2) Social Security Administration wage report, Oct. 2014
(3) basic Family budget Calculator,, for 2015

(4) basic facts about low-income children, nccp, 2015
(5) CBO, Distribution of Household income and federal taxes, 2011, (2014) page 2 
       i used the cbo total national income and divided by number of workers
(6) CBO report, page 2, i adjusted the 2011 figure, $93,900, for inflation
(7) Federal Reserve Bank, flow of Funds, page i, September 2015
(8) federal reserve, survey of consumer finances,  page 17
(9) edward wolff, the asset price meltdown, 2012,  Page 10, and Table 1

23.6% -- I get most of my info from National Jobs for All Coalition. They have updated their web page. Here's their graph showing the real under-employment rate of over 12.1%. Dec. 5, 2015 official U6 unemployment is 9.9%, the NJFAC says it should be 12.1%. They say that 19.8 million or 12.1% of the labor force are out of full-time work. Add those not paid above poverty level wages, the rate is 23.5%. 

Welcome to NJFAC

The Economic Populist web page has a thorough employment report. 

civilian labor force again not in labor forceThis graph from the Economic Populist shows that while the labor force grew by 4 million in the past 7 years, the "Not in Labor Force" grew by 16 million. Note the stagnation of the maroon line 2009 to 2012. The U.S. Census, see here, shows that citizens aged between 65 and 69 increased by 2.2 million between 2010 and 2013, a three year period. At that rate over an 7 year period 5.1 million would age out of the labor force, not 16 million. See, here, the "Not in Labor Force" graph from the St. Louis FRED Federal Reserve graph. It shows a 16 million increase since 2008. The employment to population ratio has not been as low since 1977 (38 years) and the employment to population ratio for prime working age, 25 to 54, has not been this low since 1984 (31 years). 
The Economic Populist concludes:
"This month's CPS report warns.  To focus on just the plunging official unemployment rate is a huge mistake.  Underneath the numbers shows a disturbing trend of people just dropping out of the count.  The never ending low labor participation rates are just not changing and simply cannot be explained by baby boomers retiring." 

The September, 2015, unemployment report, according to the NJFAC report, shows that

23.5% of the work force are either unemployed, involuntarily part-time workers, or working full-time year-round for less than the poverty level for a family of four ($24,008). The numbers read: 7.9 million unemployed, 6.0 million involuntarily working part-time, 6.0 million "not counted in the official statistics" and 18.5 million working for low wages -- 38.4 million total, 23.5% of work force. Confirming this statistic is the Social Security report that shows 46% of all workers earn less than $25,000 annually, and their average annual income is $12,365, about $1,000 a month, well below poverty for a single individual. The U.S. Census report Supplemental Poverty Measure shows, page 6, that 9% of all workers (or 13.3 million) live in poverty, and 43% of that total "worked full-time year-round". See BLS on part-time workers, here. The household average income for 2011 was $93,900 according to the CBO report, and inflation adjusted to 2015, that's $99,000. 

Non-supervisory workers’ average weekly earnings are
4% lower than they were in 1964. See St. Louis Federalreserve bank graphs, FRED, and adjust for inflation
82% of the work force are non-supervisory workers

Since 1964, the output of the U.S. economy has nearly tripled on a per person basis (increasing the per capita disposable income by 175%), according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, (See Table 2.1, personal income, Disposable personal income) 
A report from the economic policy institute states that since 1979 the income of the top 1% tripled (increased by 200.3%), while the income for the lower 99% increased by 18.9%. The 1% captured 53.9% of all income growth. (increasingly unequal states of america, 

Another report, here, states that the world's wealthiest 400 individuals, the Forbes 400, on average own $5.8 billion each. In 1982 this inflation adjusted average was $570 million, indicating a ten fold increase, or a 900% increase, in 30 years. The rest of the U.S. population increased their private savings by only 30% over 30 years, 1% per year. And Edward Wolff says that the median household's wealth has decreased to its 1969 level, while the economy, per person, has almost tripled its output, a 175% per capita increase.

In a broader contrast to the entire world, the U.N. report on Food and Agriculture, page 2, states that more than 1 in 3 humans, or 2.2 billion humans, survive on less than $2 a day, less than $730 a year. That statistic does not convey it's real meaning, it is too dry. We should feel the individual hunger and insecurity of those 2.2 billion humans. 

The Credit Suisse Bank report, World Wealth Report, 2015, states that the world average savings per adult is now $52,432 (page 5) but the median adult wealth is $3,200, and the top 1% own more than half of all private wealth, and the top 10% own 87.7%, while the lower-saving 50% own less than 1% of all wealth (pages 18 and19). A stunning article about wealth disparity in the U.S. shows that about 1 in 5 american adults are very poor, data is taken from this World Wealth Report. 

All in all, this story contradicts our values, our concepts of personal success. We have to adjust our values. Not only is the natural world in danger -- the climate, the soil, water resources, oceanic aquatic life -- our excessive inequality threatens civilization. We humans require harmonious social coordination for survival, and it is the source of our dignity. But the pursuit of endless accumulation, the signal of success, has reached anti-social and absurd levels. Now the most vaunted success portends the collapse of our species' survival. Absurd? We have met the enemy . . .  

Personally, I like the next blog entry better. It has much more basic info in it. 
This was my Labor Day message. I've yet to distribute the paper copies I made. It was a holiday, and who is interested in a topic like inequality on a holiday? 

Olivia Holmes leads the High Peaks Twirlers during the Louisville Labor Day Parade on Monday.
For more photos and a video of the parade go to
Paul Aiken Staff Photographer Sept 7, 2015

Friday, July 31, 2015

Overview of Inequality, Family Budgets, Proposals

I will speak tomorrow, August 1, 2015, to the local Democrats in Oakhurst, California. My topic:
               Inequality as a Threat to the American Middle Class

Here's my outline with the comments I will make. 

                      half own 1.1%                                  own 12%              own 17%         own 30%
                                                                                                                                                    top 1%
                                                                                                                                                    own 40%    
0% --------------------25%---------------------50%-----------------------80%---------90%---------100%

         no savings                under $80,000            average               average       percentile
                                                                                    $225,000               $500,000      90 - 94   95 to 99
                                                                                                                                   $1.3 mn      $3.3 mn
                                                                                                         Average for top 1%  ---  $27 million
                                                                       Average for all households: $685,000 as of 2015 Q1

Reference: Flow of Funds Report, page i,  Survey of Consumer Finances, page 17, showing a 40% drop in median household savings, from $126,400 to $79,300, between 2007 and 2010. In three years the "typical" household lost nearly half its life savings. Is that simple enough? The Congressional Research Service report that shows the lower-half owns but 1.1% of all savings, and Edward Wolff's report here. Wolff states that the median dropped by 47%, from $108,000 to $58,000 between 2008 and 2010. It dropped below its 1969 level.


Moving in Opposite Directions, the Richest and the Majority 
Total private wealth in the past seven years has grown by 36%, adjusting for inflation. See the Federal Reserve's Flow of Funds, page 2.
In seven years since 2008 total private savings for all households in the nation grew            
                                        by $28 trillion , from $57 trillion to $85 trillion.
This is a nominal increase of 50% in seven years, a windfall. But, when adjusted for inflation and population growth, wealth increased by 36%. During the same seven years, perversely, the nation suffered its worst economic debacle in 75 years since the Great Depression of the 1930s!  Most of the wealth increase went to the already wealthy, the owners of financial assets; and most of the damage of the recession went to the lesser wealthy 90%. Perversely, the instigator of the debacle -- the financial system that collapsed through over-lending -- was rewarded.
To make that $28 trillion understandable, it also equals $88,000 per citizen, and $229,000 per household -- of new or additional personal savings over 7 years.
If we compare the wealth of 2007 with today's wealth, then the increase in personal savings was not  36% but 11%.
While the average for ALL households since 2008 increased savings by 36%, the middle household, the median, lost 40%of its life savings, or as Edward Wolff reports, 47%, from $107,500 to $57,000. --- Moving in Opposite directions 
Wolff further states, page 10, "Then during the financial crisis of the late 2000s, median non-home wealth nose-dived by a colossal 60 percent to only $10,000 – is lowest level over the fifty-year period!"
The median had $25,000, then lost 60% or $15,000, now has $10,000 in "non-home wealth". And this is why the liquid asset poverty rate is around 44%, see here
And that means that nearly half of all citizens are in danger of living on the streets after a 3 month period with no income, save for the government safety net programs that aid the low income households. Resentment and bewilderment is understandable. Disgust with the political system that oversaw this perverse enactment is nearly universal. The portion of society that feels itself lower-income, not middle, has increased from 25% to 40% in the last few years. "Today, about as many Americans identify themselves as lower or lower-middle class (40%) as say they are in the middle class (44%), according to a recent Pew Research Center/USA TODAY survey."
The lower 40% of households, according to Wolff, see the WaPost graphic below, have no savings. 

As the wealthiest 5% of households own 75% of all financial assets, see here page 11 (this SWA report by Sylvia Allegretto is excellent), and financial assets were the source of most of the new wealth, then the top 5% or the wealthiest 6 million households gained about $450,000 per year in wealth, an average total of $3.125 million over seven years. The cash annual income (not life savings) of top-earning 0.9% of households is more than $500,000 per year. The gain in wealth is like a second income, not in cash but in stock value. The new $28 trillion, is not treated as taxable cash income. But what is the difference? It is equivalent to cash; it is a liquid asset, as of course cash is. One possible way to adjust for such windfall increases is a direct tax on financial assets or wealth, just as now the property tax is levied on home values. Or, as a second choice, a tax on financial transactions -- the Robin Hood Tax -- would suffice. Though this is not popular, that could change. The Credit Suisse Bank report World Wealth Report, page 146, shows the composition of wealth in the U.S. as 70% financial and 30% non-financial. (See link below to WWR) The ZeroHedge article, referred to above, shows wealth composed of 82% financial assets, 18% other.

A Double Boost -- Wealth and Income Surge 
        for the Few at the Top -- Everyone else gets creamed       
"Top 1% Got 93% of Income Growth" reads the 2012 Bloomberg article.   What it fails to mention is the simultaneous surge in wealth benefiting only the wealthiest. Remember the lower half of U.S. families saw their assets reduced by 47%, according to Edward Wolff, and their non-home liquid assets reduced from $25,000 to $10,000, while the annual median income dropped by about $5,000.  Below is a good visual of the growth of net worth, or private savings, in America. See the other visuals of private savings at this site, Floating Path. In 2007 private wealth fell by $12.7 trillion. Since 2008 it has grown by $28.4 trillion. Since 2007, wealth has increased by 11%, or since 2008 it has increased by 36%. Both income and wealth went up for the top 5%, BUT income and wealth fell for the lower 80%. 
That is the lesson of the Great Recession and Obama's failure to manage the recovery which he inherited from GW Bush.  That wealth could be taxed: $28 trillion could easily wipe out the national debt standing at $18 trillion, or the publicly held national debt at $10 trillion. In comparison, the federal government will spend $3.9 trillion in 2015, and the Social Security Trust Fund totals $2.8 trillion.  But an even better use of this $28 trillion would be to employ every unemployed and under-employed worker into a living wage job, and that would manifestly and actually improve our national well-being. 

Net Worth

Reader, superimpose on this graph the growth of net worth of the lower half of U.S. households. They own 1.1% of all net worth today, see here.
It has been essentially flat since 1952. And we call this progress?
The average household net worth or savings in 2015 is $685,000.  Average is not average, though. About 1 in 10 live in a family with about that much in savings. Only half of all households own more than $80,000, the median. (See here.) And as we've read in the Wolff report, $10,000 in non-home savings is the median, which Wolff reports is less than the 1960 level. Therefore it's not surprising that only a bare 10% of households own the official "average" or more. In the same seven years the median household net worth has fallen from $130,000 to around $80,000, (as I've noted in recent blog entries, below) a fall of 40%, a loss of about 20 to 30 years of savings, or as Edward Wolff claims, a loss of 41 years of savings. Also since 2007 median income, not wealth but income, has dropped 8%, and some 9 million jobs were permanently eliminated with the 1.5 year recession, and millions of homeowners lost their houses through foreclosure during the worst slump in 75 years. Of the Recession, 14 months occurred under G.W. Bush, 4 months under B. Obama.

Wealth Distribution - International Comparison
Among 39 nations, the U.S. has the highest inequality of wealth, save for one nation, Russia.

In Australia the "typical" (or "median" or middle person) adult owns about 4 times more than the typical adult in the U.S. --- 4.2 times more --- meaning he or she owns not $53,352 but $225,337.

Therefore, the typical household savings in Australia is around $450,000, not $80,000 as in the U.S.

Chances are high that one's neighbors in Aussie land are pretty well off. Average wealth per adult in Australia is $537,140; it is wealthier than the U.S. which also is wealthy at $405,671 per adult (see page 146 of Credit Suisse report, linked here). Even though Australia is a very wealthy nation on a per capita basis, it has chosen to share its abundance. Many advanced nations have chosen to share; in these countries the "typical" adult wealth is much higher, often double, that of the U.S.  The World Wealth Report, by Credit Suisse Bank, the databook, page 141, shows the relationship between "mean average" to "median" wealth per adult.
The higher the ratio between the median to the average, the greater the inequality gap. In the U.S. average household wealth, $685,000, is 6.6 times greater than the median, $80,000. That is using data from the Federal Reserve. If we use the data from the Credit Suisse report, the ratio is 7.6.
In Belgium the average wealth per household is only 1.7 times greater than median wealth (($476,000 is the average, and $280,000 is the median). Belgium has a lower average than the U.S. ($476,000 to $685,000), but the median is higher ($280,000 to $80,000). Average to median: In Italy average is 1.8 times higher than median, Australia 1.9, UK 2.2, France 2.3, and Norway 4.1. In the U.S., again, 7.6 times greater. Of 39 nations, only Russia has a higher ratio, 8.3.
Internationally, the U.S. is about the worst when it comes to sharing prosperity.

If the U.S. had the same ratio as France for instance, 2.6, then most of our neighbors would have $263,000 of household net worth, not $80,000 or less. I believe this would improve the quality of our lives, our families, our neighborhoods in many ways.

These countries are not poor. In fact they are richer. The median wealth in Belgium is greater than the U.S. median by 3.5 times ($280,000 to $80,000 as I showed in the last paragraph). Japan's median surpasses the U.S. median by 2.2.  In France by 2.6, in UK by 2.5, in Italy by 2.6, in Norway by 1.6, but in Australia the median adult savings is 4.2 times greater than the U.S. median adult savings. The middle class in these nations enjoys a higher quality of life with far greater security. In simple words, other countries share their economy's surplus among the general  population, but in the U.S. the wealthy hoard most of the wealth. And that trend is a threat to our culture, society and economy. Our lives could be greatly improved if we could shift this picture to greater sharing. If others do it, and they do, why not us?   

Take a glance at childhood poverty rates among advanced nations, and ask if we can be proud of our record, especially given that our national income per capita, over $37,000, is the highest. Compare our performance with Korea, UK, and Denmark.
Fact 9 image is missing
As I report later in this essay, the five nations with the highest income inequality gap among 38 advanced nations are 1) Mexico, 2) Turkey, 3) Chile, and 4) Israel tied with the U.S., the income  inequality gap between the 20th and 80th percentile of income earners, as reported by the OECD.
The high child poverty level duplicates this inequality gap. Australia needs to work on its poverty level, obviously.

Page 147 of this Credit Suisse databook shows wealth distribution in deciles among the population of 38 countries of the world. In the U.S. the wealthiest 10% own about 75% of all wealth. In Japan, 48%. These are the two extremes among the 38 nations, except for Indonesia which surpasses the U.S.

The U.N. Human Development Index ranks the U.S. at the 5th place among about 170 nations of the world. When adjusted for inequality, see here Table #3, the U.S. slips down 23 places to #28. This loss of 28 places is exceeded by only one nation, Iran.

Here's a chart from Edward Wolff's data, published in the Washington Post:

40% have Zero net worth in the U.S.A. 
44% are liquid asset poor. See here. These households "do not have a basic safety net to weather emergencies or prepare for future needs, such as a child’s college education or homeownership." The BLS states that 43% of the unemployed endure at least 15 weeks (3 months and 2 weeks) of unemployment, see here. The definition of liquid asset poverty: "Liquid asset 

poverty is a measure of the liquid savings households hold to cover basic expenses for 

three months if they experienced a sudden job loss, a medical emergency or another 

financial crisis leading to a loss of stable income."

How the Great Recession Became Great
The Federal Reserve's Flow of Funds report, Table D.3 shows household debt, mostly mortgage debt,  grew by 95% (nearly doubling) from 1996 to 2008, from 67% of GDP in 1996 to 97% in 2008. Today it stands at 85%. This indicates that the regression of the debt to wealth ratio is a phenomenon of financial wealth growth, not a decline relative to annual GDP output. Meaning aggregate household debt is still high in the U.S. -- for what that may be worth to the typical reader who reads this much of my blog essays. We are not out of the woods.


Income distribution is not as brutal as wealth. The top earning 1% of taxpayers, among 166 million tax returns, not 120 million households, earn about the same amount as the collective total income of the lower-earning 50%. The ratio holds true as well for households as for taxpayers. Both parties earn around 16%, and together they pull in 1/3rd of all income. About 60% of all pre-tax income goes to the higher earning 20% of households. About 50% pre-tax income goes to the top 10%. After-taxes and government transfers, the top 20% received 50% of all income.

                16.4% of total income                              23.7% of income                     59.9% of income

            average $35,000                                                  $125,000                           $324,000

The average at the top goes up drastically because the top one percent take in $1.6 million on average. (0.9% of taxpayers earn 16.7% of all income.)

Source: Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, page 30, 2014
The best source I've seen for distribution of income is from the CBO, here.
This Joint Committee page also shows that the top 5% of taxpayers pay 47% of federal taxes, and 70% of all income taxes, because they earn 32.3% of all income. The top one percent pays 45% of all income taxes with about 17% of total income. The Citizens for Tax Justice shows Who Pays Taxes In America, breaks down the income distribution, and also indicates that the effective overall tax rate for the top 1% is about 33% of their total income. In the 1950s, under Eisenhower, the top marginal tax rate on income above $500,000 was 91%, not today's 44%. See this chart.
The best investigation of income distribution may be that of the Congressional Budget Office, the CBO, see here. It shows average income for all households in 2011 was $93,900 after transfers and before taxes. The median in 2011 was $50,520, see here page 1. Again, the average and the median are a stark mismatch. 
Worth noting on page 10, the lowest earning 20% of households, with a pre-tax income of $24,600 receives 19% of its income from government social safety-net transfers, including Medicaid and "Other cash and in-kind" benefits, a total of $4,674, about 1/5th of their income. Therefore, 4/5ths of their income comes from "Labor", Medicare, and Social Security. The report also states that the total  social safety-net support equals 4% of national income, which would be today around $576 billion, which seems too small by $100 billion, by my count. The total wage income of half of U.S. workers, 78 million, is less than $900 billion, which is also less than 7% of 2013's national income, see the Social Security Administration report, here, and the report on national income.  Ideally the EITC would dramatically increase while the minimum wage would slowly increase, to enable the poorest households to share the great prosperity of our nation --- $93,900 was the average household income in 2011, $685,000 is today's average household savings. Read "Raising America's Pay: Why It's Our Central Economic Challenge", here.

The Rift Grows !!!
If your income was over $161 million last year, you are very wealthy, and you have probably seen a 90% increase in income since 2003. If your income was over $1.3 million, your income since 2003 has increased by almost 50%. If you, along with 80% of U.S. taxpayers, had an income below $85,440, then your "average" income has fallen. All this at a recent article by David Cay Johnson, here. Johnson has come out with a new book,                                                                            Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality, see here.

I don't want to distract readers from this essay, but two exceptional analyses can be found here and here. The first from ZeroHedge has a lovely, colorful bar graph, third down, showing all the facets of wealth since 2004, that shows that real (or inflation adjusted) total private wealth has increased by about 40% since 2005, from $60 trillion to $83 trillion. (The Flow of Funds Account (FFA) states a 37% growth in total private wealth, 2005 to 2015 -- so the Zero Hoedge graph seems to draw its data from the FFA.) In the same period the median household's savings has fallen by 47%, to below 1969 levels according to Edward Wolff. Wolff, page 9, "Then between 2007 and 2010, median wealth plunged by a staggering 47 percent! Indeed, median wealth was actually lower in 2010 than in 1969 (in real terms). The primary reasons, as we shall see below, were the collapse in the housing market and the high leverage of middle class families.10"
 Reading down in the Zero Hedge article, it states that gap in wealth is widening among the U.S. households: "Median net worth of households in the highest quintile was 39.8 times higher than the second lowest quintile in 2000, and it rose to 86.8 times higher in 2011. (Figure 2)."
Reader, is this a threat to middle class shared prosperity?
The second, from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, shows the portion of total wealth held by the lower-saving 90% has not been so low since 1941.
I also suggest that the reader look at and The first is a product of the Institute for Policy Studies, the second from Stanford University's Center on Poverty and Inequality. Glance at their "20 Facts about Inequality." Both sites have graphs and data related to wealth and other topics, very enlightening.
Below in this essay you'll find a graphic of wealth distribution published in the Washington Post from data compiled by Edward Wolff.
There are pie graphs of wealth distribution at various places, hereherehere.
The most interesting variant is one that tries to incorporate Social Security payouts, here.

Inequality in the past 50 years

My favorite Federal Reserve graph shows that 82% of all workers, called nonsupervisory workers,  today receive 4% less each week in wages than 51 years ago. The, personal income, here, shows that "disposable per capita income" (meaning after-tax income) has grown since 1964, in chained or inflation adjusted dollars, by 175%, nearly tripling, from $13,485 to $37,084. (See, personal income, 1964 to 2015, chained dollars disposable personal income per capita) If this does not convince you of stark unequal treatment of income, then nothing will convince you.
For the Fed graph go here, then convert 1964's income of $95.50 a week into today's dollars, here, and it will convert to $735.16, the pay in 1964. Then compare it today's pay of $705.26 a week, on average. Annually, that is $36,660 in wage income for full-time and year-round workers.
The U.S. Census, here, shows that income doubled, not tripled, between 1967 and 2013. The "per capita income"  "in 2013 dollars" has increased since 1967 by 92%, from $15,026 to $28,829. The great problem with the U.S. Census report is that it misses about a third of the national income. When the total household number (124.58 million households) is multiplied by the average income ($75,738), the total national income appears to be $9.4 trillion. (See here, page 23) The Joint Committee on Taxation (see here page 30) reports a total income for 2014 of $12.736 trillion, and the reports an income of $14.4 trillion. The U.S. Census misses about a quarter of the total.
But do not forget the first sentence above --- wages for 80% have actually dropped.

And while income either doubled or tripled for "per capita" it fell by 4% for 80% of the workers.
Is this inequality?         

Wrong! -- Now I'll argue the opposite
The U.S. Census report Income and Poverty, September 2014, page 23, shows that between 1967 and 2013, the portion of households that earn over $100,000 a year has increased from 7.7% to 22.5%. Now between one in five and one in four households are earning over $100,000. That is definite a step forward. And those earning below $35,000 has fallen from 39% to 34%. Everyone, the rich and the poor, are making more income! That is shared prosperity!

But Wait a Minute!

The top one percent received 88.5% of all growth between 1979 and 2012, according to this report.
And they increased their (already oversized) income by 180%, while the lower-earning 99% increased their income be less than 3%.  Here's an "info-graphic", a snap-shot of the report:

One of the authors holds two PhD.s in economics.
Now who do you believe?

A look at State of Working America, Income, here, shows that of all the income growth between 1979and 2007, 80.9% of it went to the top 5%, and 19.1% went to the lower 95%. And nearly 60% went to the top 1%.
Hardly an equal sharing of the gains of growth.
Who are the authors of this report? Saez and Picketty?  Saez, a professor at University of California, Berkeley, can be found here, see his report Striking It Richer, and Thomas Picketty is the author of the best selling economics book of 2014, Capital in the 21st Century.

The reports from the Economic Policy Institute are the best.  Send them a thank you is my suggestion.
The OECD published a report comparing inequality among 34 developed nations. The U.S. ranked tied at fifth most unequal. The comparison between the 20th and 80th percentiles showed Mexico with the highest gap, 1 to 13.3, then Turkey 12.8, then Chile at 8.0, then the U.S. and Israel tied at 7.7. (Or see here, Measure: S80/S20 disposable income) Most European nations had a ratio of 1 to 4. (See here for a quick bar graph, and here, page 56, and here, and here. The OECD is concentrating on the ill effects of Inequality.)


American Middle Class Budgets, 
                      Incomes and Expenses

First look at the changes, 2000 to 2012, in the expenses of the family with two children.
See page 8 of this report, The Middle Class Squeeze.

Page 8 shows that the median income for a 2 child and 2 parent family is $84,000, very high. According to another web site, this is the 74th percentile. But reasonable for adults of this age, mid forties with dependent children.

In 12 years the income has increased a bare $600, virtually no growth. Expenses have offset each other: taxes down $4,400, consumer goods down $5,500. But five key or "pillar" expenses have jumped $10,600, these expenses are housing, college savings, health care, child care, and retirement savings.

The 30 fastest growing occupations between 2012 and 2022 are listed here at this report from the Department of Labor. The median for the all the 15.6 million new jobs predicted in the report is $34,750. In July, 2015, the median full-time year-round worker earned $40 050, see here. So the future's faster growing occupations will add 15 million new workers earning about 12% less than today's median worker.

Regarding the "Middle Class Squeeze" report, I quibble with their health care expenses. The Kaiser Family Foundation (here) states that these expenses have doubled between 2002 to 2013. "Family premiums have increased 80% since 2003 and have more than doubled since 2002." (page 12)  (This KFF report has a summary graphic.) 
Exhibit A

The average premium costs $16,351 of which the out of pocket cost to employee is $5,884 or 36% (this from the first report cited, page 12). This is a raise in total compensation of $10,467. This raise in compensation is not accounted for in the Middle Class Squeeze report.  
The actual cost may be $8,600 to the Middle Class family of the example, but their total compensation is under-reported. 

Let's turn to another source, the Economic Policy Institute "Family Budget Calculator". 
I turn to Topeka, Kansas, because this locale has the median costs in the nation for 2013. Here we see the expense of health care is $1,342 a month or $16,104 a year. Consistent with the K.F.F. survey results.  
On August 26, 2015, the EPI updated their Family Budget Calculator, and they state, "
  • The basic family budget for a two-parent, two-child family ranges from $49,114 (Morristown, Tenn.) to $106,493 (Washington, D.C.). In the median family budget area for this family type, Des Moines, Iowa, a two-parent, two-child family needs $63,741 to secure an adequate but modest living standard. This is well above the 2014 poverty threshold of $24,008 for this family type.  
This report is very helpful to assess the geographic price differences and the variations in household size, in fact 10 different family sizes are analyzed among 618 geographic locations.

Monthly costs

for a family with

2 parents and 2 children

in TopekaKansas
 Child Care$1,181
 Health Care$1,342
 Other Necessities$370
Monthly Total$5,280
Annual Total$63,364
A look at the family's expenses shows that about a quarter are for child care and a quarter are for health care.

Now we look a little further, to the table showing working age family incomes, courtesy of State of Working America, an Economic Policy Institute project.

I'll be!  The graph seems to
come across onto this blog.

Median expenses: $63,634
Median income:  $65,577
That means that about half the families of working age will have expenses greater than income,
and half will not.
What does that say for the "middle class", typical or iconic family in America?
Half are struggling.
Recently the Pew Surveys stated that 40% of Americans self-described as low-income, 44% as middle class, and 16% as upper.



Proposals and Solutions 

Sixteen for '16, by Salvatore Babones  --- a book of policy proposals.

Mr. Babones contributes to the Institute for Policy Studies, a think-tank that sponsors the excellent monthly newsletter

Sixteen for 16 Book cover
The 16 solutions:

1. Government-led job creation
    (this is my #1 choice, and if you look through this blog you will find that I report several times on Philip Harvey's government job creation plan "Back to Work", or the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposal for a 3 year expense of $350 billion a year creating 8.5 million full-time year-round jobs, with additional support for later years. You will find references to plans and specifications that would return the nation to high employment, living wages and rising wages for all workers, and shared prosperity. Also look at the analysis of Bivens, here, and of Scott, here, of the EPI, detailing the effects of a $250 billion debt-financed infrastructure program.

2. National infrastructure renewal

3. A rededication to public education
  (and I encourage readers to read Diane Ravitch's book Reign of Error)

4. Universal single-payer healthcare,
often known as Medicare for All.
Senator Bernie Sanders is sponsoring such a measure.

5. Higher taxes on higher incomes
Mr. Picketty, the best selling author of Capital in the 20th Century, whom I note above, supports a highest marginal income tax rate of 80% applicable to only income exceeding $457,000. The current rate on this high income is almost 44%. The Joint Committee on Taxation reports that only 0.9% of taxpayers earn over $500,000. Their share of total income is 16.7%, or one sixth of all income.)

6. Refinancing Social Security

7. Stronger bank regulation

8. The right to join a union  

 9. living minimum wage

10. 10 sick days, 10 holidays, and 10 vacation days

11. An end to the prison state   Look at the incarceration rate change at this site, lower left graph. 

12. Secure reproductive rights

13. Making it easier to vote

14. Closing down the NSA

15. More humane treatment of refugees

16. Addressing global warming

I add some other reforms:
instituting higher Earned Income Tax Credit,
creating Individual Development Accounts,
supporting the proposals found in the book on The Bankers' New Clothes by Admati and Hellwig,
reducing the size of the U.S. military,
and creating publicly funded elections, outlawing campaign finance contributions.
And the concept of employee profit sharing and ownership sharing needs a revival, as documented in the book The Citizen's Share. Profit and ownership sharing was promoted in the 1880s and was very popular among capitalist titans in the 1920s, but today it has renewed appeal not to be dismissed. After all half of U.S. employees work in firms with more than 500 employees, and 75% work in firms with more than 20 employees.
I realize I've smothered the readers with fact, reference and detail. The crux of my argument I find summed up best in the Introduction to Joan Tronto's book, A Caring Democracy, available for reading here.  She says, "what it means to be a citizen in a democracy is to care about citizens and about democracy itself. . . . What has gone wrong . . . is that we have lost sight of the other side of existence besides the world of the 'economy.'"  Caring is the work of living. Take a look.

Thank you Oakhurst Dems for inviting me to speak.