These Statistics Show Why the Status Quo Is Failing Most Americans

Yves here. Even though readers are no doubt familiar with the story told in this post, it’s nevertheless useful to have key statistics at hand, particularly since the data are so grim. Several indicators were markedly worse than I realized.

By Isaiah J. Poole, an editorial manager for The Next System Project at the Democracy Collaborative. He has been a longtime Washington-based journalist, editor and commentator focused primarily on economic policy. Originally published at openDemocracy

Presidential campaigns are referendums on the economic status quo, but rarely offer more than superficial assessments of how much the status quo should be patched or tweaked in order to win the grudging support of a political majority. Candidates marshal economic indicators to make their case for how far and in what direction the status quo should be nudged.

In proper perspective, however, those indicators become a clarion call to go beyond nudges and patches to challenge the basic foundations of how our economy operates and who controls it. A look beyond the statistical snapshots candidates commonly use to long-term trends and global comparisons reveals that America’s economic problem is not that there’s something wrong with the status quo; it’s the status quo itself that’s wrong.

The Next System Project at the Democracy Collaborative recently published its first Index of Systemic Trends to better inform the political debate over the degree and shape of change America needs. While it is tempting to blame the nation’s ills on Donald Trump and the virulent form of populist, right-wing extremism he represents, this is an inadequate reading of our recent history —and a dangerous one at that. The rise of Trump is actually a symptom of a much longer systemic crisis that has been building over the last several decades. The Index of Systemic Trends is an effort to quantify, track, and visualize this crisis.

One of the signs that a crisis is systemic, rather than purely political or economic, is that key indicators decline or stay the same regardless of changes in political power or business cycles. Since 1970, the United States has experienced six party changes in the White House, five party changes in control of the Senate, and four in the House of Representatives. It has also experienced seven recessions (and recoveries). Yet on critical indicators of economic, social, and democratic health, our index shows little improvement and, in many cases, substantial deterioration over this period.

The trends considered in this section include poverty, wealth inequality, racial wealth inequality, income inequality, wage stagnation, the cost of higher education (and student loan debt), homeownership (and racial inequality), corporate taxation, taxation of the rich, union density, incarceration rates (including by race), labor force participation rates, healthcare costs, climate change, and life expectancy.

Share of US wealth held by key income groupsFor example, since the early 1970s:

Wages have been stagnant for the vast majority of Americans. For production and nonsupervisory workers in the private sector, average hourly earnings today are essentially the same as they were in 1970 when inflation is factored in.

The wealth share of the top 1 percent has substantially increased, while the bottom 50 percent saw virtually no growth in their share, with any gains wiped out during the 2008 financial crisis.

● The poverty rate in the United States has remained relatively constant at about 13%, even in the face of what has been called the longest period of economic growth in recent American history.

The racial wealth gap has exploded. Whereas in the 1970s the median net worth of White households was around 1,500% higher than the median net worth of Black households, by 2016 White household median net worth was 4,000% higher than that of Black households, because Black net worth is actually shrinking.

● While average worker wages have stagnated for decades, the average cost of undergraduate tuition has more than doubled when adjusted for inflation, leading to astronomical levels of student debt, and per capita healthcare spending is close to five times higher.

Another way to assess whether a political-economic system is in crisis is to compare its outcomes against similar systems. The infamous slogan of the Trump presidential campaign — ”Make America Great Again” — presumes a state of American exceptionalism that should be our business to restore. Our index shows that, far from being exceptional, the United States compares relatively poorly with other advanced systems — specifically the 35 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Wealth inequality OECD comparison.pngFor example:

● A higher percentage of children in the United States live in poverty(nearly 21%) than the population as a whole. Not only is that level of poverty unheard of in many other OECD countries, it’s unheard of that child poverty rates would be higher than overall rates. Several OECD countries have lower child poverty rates than general rates, including Denmark (2.9% vs. 5.5%), Finland (3.3% vs. 5.8%), Norway (7.7% vs. 8.2%), and Sweden (8.9% vs. 9.1%). The United States also has among the world’s highest rates of elder poverty.

● The United States still has one of the worst infant mortality rates of any advanced country, more than double many of its contemporaries in Europe. It also has one of the worst maternal mortality rates among advanced countries, with around 26 mothers dying during childbirth for every 100,000 live births. Finally, the United States has the lowest life expectancy of any of the high-income OECD countries (and is bested by numerous lower-income countries as well).

Union membership has always been less robust in the United States than at many of its contemporaries; now it is even more so.

● In an “Index of Economic Democracy” that measures workplace and individual rights, distribution of economic decision-making, transparency, and associational economic democracy, the United States finished dead last.

These are not statistical flukes caused by transitory events; it is evidence of chronic dysfunction at the heart of our current system.

The numbers in the Index of Systemic Trends tell the story of a political-economic system that consistently fails to deliver improvements in the lives of Americans or remain qualitatively competitive with other advanced economies. They reveal a systemic crisis that can only be fully addressed by moving toward a new system that can and will produce better outcomes.

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  1. kk

    In Orwell’s 1984, the loudspeakers and media shout out that the production of shoes has reached an all time high whilst everyone is ill shod and many shoeless.

  2. Roland

    A few remarks, no particular order:

    –Coincidence is not causation, but the dates are pretty much in line with abandoning the gold standard. Mind you, other countries mentioned kept better indicators post-Bretton Woods.

    –Disgusting to see how little benefit accrued to the American people after the end of the Cold War. Hardly any impact on the trend.

    –Technology? Who cares? Comprehensive social, political, and cultural failure nevertheless! The 21st century bourgeoisie might go down in history as the losingest pathetic ruling class of all time. “Never did so few achieve so little with so much.”

    –As a Canadian, I should note to American readers that the trends in Canada differ only somewhat in timing and degree from what we see in the USA. Like in the USA, there has been a secular stagnation of wages, deepening personal debts, a widening gulf between rich and poor, and an explosion in the number of persons experiencing physically acute want (i.e. poverty absolute, not relative).

    To think that when I first moved to Vancouver in 1988, beggars were few and only downtown, scavengers were never seen, and as for physically acute suffering, that was restricted to a handful of hardcore winos and junkies that you would find only if you sought for them. Such was a major Canadian city during the slovenly, uncompetitive, pre-globalist era of the welfare state.

    Today, I feel that my niece, who is a highly intelligent and highly educated young middle-class woman, does not really comprehend or really believe, as having been a normal reality, the state of affairs I described in the paragraph above.

    1. Ignacio

      The gold standard? Why looking for esoteric correlations/causations? What about the voodoo economics practiced by Mr. Reagan and the settlement of neoliberalism in power?

      1. skippy

        Its like the great depression never happened on a gold standard by the forefathers of neoliberalism or anything ….

      2. ambrit

        And I love it that it was “Poppy” Bush who trotted out the ‘Voodoo Economics’ meme during his primary run for the Republican nomination for Presidential Candidate in 1980.
        The ‘Scribe Class’s’ reactions to the phrase act as a rough political touchstone for their fealties.
        investopedia calls the locution; “..a slanderous phrase..”
        forbes refers to the “..problematic staying power of ‘voodoo economics'” refers to “..Bush’s tortured relationship with economics.”
        The ghost of “Trickle down” still roams the halls of Congress, corrupting all it touches.

        1. polecat

          I like PINs* too … when their sharp pointy ends are thrust back to their source ..

          *Pompous Idiotic Neoliberacon(s)

    2. notabanktoadie

      The Gold Standard is gone and good riddance since inexpensive fiat is the ONLY ethical money form for government use.

      That said, our current, heavily privileged banking model is a relic of the Gold Standard and should be abolished as well in favor of reform that allows all citizens (at least) to use fiat in account form and which abolishes (in a just, responsible manner) all other privileges for the use of bank deposits over the use of fiat.

      1. Jack Lifton

        This article is an eye-opener. It illuminates the pathetic world view of the American 1% as they helm the ship of state to the bottom of the sea. This is not a result of abandoning the gold standard; it is the result of squandering the opportunities created by winning the second world wars.

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          aye. all the way through, I’m thinking:”…and it was all done on purpose”.
          we talk about it…if at all…as if it’s some unfortunate accident or act of god or unpredictable stormcloud that we had no control over.
          but it was a choice.
          made by people who pretended to work for us.
          that’s a betrayal….more and more, i think of the rich, and all the vehicles they ride on and hide in, as traitors….perfidious, accursed parasites.
          big damned dog ticks.
          and short sighted, to boot.
          found this linked in something in Links:

          Robert Reich, in 1982.
          in which there is this:”Other public goods involve the quality of the work force. The past economic success of the United States was based to a large degree on the skills, education, and health of its workers. Public expenditures on these intangibles are investments in the nation’s future productivity; reducing them in order to finance increased investments in plant and equipment is a shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating industrial policy.”

          it was a choice, and “they” knew it would screw over the vast majority of their fellow Americans.

          1. Steve

            I like Reich’s point but what also must be noted is that those with power & wealth already have the USG using stealthy “industrial policies” for industries like finance and defense which logically help produce the devastating unequal health, education, and income results for the majority of society.

        2. MELINDA REACH

          I agree, and we have done it by abandoning investment in the common good in favor of creating billionaires via our corrupt tax structure.

    3. Off The Street

      Chile at number 2. The same Chile that received those Chicago Boys with open arms, or as a result of some other arms. Neo-Liberalism for South America, too. Chile has been exporting more than copper and produce these days. There are Chilean property crime rings operating in various parts of the US.

      1. polecat

        I’m sure Uncle Milty is smiling a fine rictus grin … in whatever sector of Hell he be interned to, with the knowledge of his miserly economic mantra having spread far and wide across much of Planet Ferengi.

    4. marku52

      Well, it is interesting to note that under the gold standard, long term trade deficits are impossible. The outflow of gold will lead to a depreciation of the deficit currency, and an appreciation of the surplus country.

      The currency will move until trade goes into balance. Long term Deficits and hollowing-out is only possible with a fiat currency.

      This is not to endorse the gold standard. Having your money supply tied to how successful people are in digging holes seems unnecessarily opaque.

      Keynes was worried about trade deficits, and proposed SDRs as one way to fix the problem, AFAIK.

      1. notabanktoadie

        Since the debt of monetary sovereigns is inherently risk-free, it should yield no more than zero percent minus overhead costs with shorter maturities costing more and account balances* at the Central Bank costing the most. Why? To avoid welfare proportional to account balance.

        If that were the case, then foreigners would not have an incentive to hoard the debt of monetary sovereigns like the US but instead to buy their goods and services.

        So the solution to trade deficits is ethics, not shiny, scarce metals.

        *With an individual citizen exemption up to a reasonable limit on account size and number of transactions per month – presupposing that citizens shall be allowed accounts of their own at their central bank and not just depository institutions.

  3. Ignacio

    Oh! But now there is Alexa, Siri … real improvements sir!

    Apart from my stupid commentary this is a short and excellent summary of the Status Quo that also brougth me back to Whatever you want.

  4. Godfree Roberts

    Next year 500,000,000 urban Chinese will have more net worth and disposable income than the average American, their mothers and infants will be less likely to die in childbirth, their children will graduate from high school three years ahead of American kids and live longer, healthier lives and there will be more drug addicts, suicides and executions, more homeless, poor, hungry, and imprisoned people in America than in China.

    Hurrah! W’re #1.

  5. TG

    I’m old enough to remember when high US wages were considered a source of pride. There would be articles on how many hours an average person had to work to but a pound of butter, or a gallon of milk etc., and the US was way over everyone else.

    Now there has been a change: high wages are a sign of laziness, a lack of ‘moral fiber,’ we are not ‘globally competitive,’ high wages are something to fight against not celebrate. Has anyone else noticed that?

    If there aren’t any takers for low wage jobs, the answer is not to let the market raise wages, but to artificially flood the labor market with third-world refugees. Remember, in a market economy, the only reason that someone can get $15/hour, is that if the business advertises at $10/hour, they don’t get any qualified takers. Low wages and high inequality is by deliberate design.

    It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

    1. Inode_buddha

      As you say the message has changed. Asking myself why this would be the case, the first thing that came to my mind is “Look at where the message is coming from”

      1. WheresOurTeddy

        “Look at where the message is coming from”

        The News: Rich people convincing everyone else that rich people are not and have never been the problem

    2. Cal2

      “artificially flood the labor market with third-world refugees”

      If a busload of poor people arrives at a village, is that truly its local poverty rate?

      The poverty statistics for California include a large share of Non Citizen working age people from Mexico and Central America and their children.

      Further exacerbating that is the remissions sent out of our local economies by immigrants, legal and illegal, money that had it remained in country, would have generated much larger sums through the Multiplier Effect. So much for local poverty.

      70 Billion plus sent to Mexico, Latin America and Caribbean in 2016
      Last graphic on this page:

    3. JerryDenim

      “I’m old enough to remember when high US wages were considered a source of pride.”

      That’s quite remarkable to think about even though I know it to be true. My earliest memories are of Carter and Regan and I came of age in the Clinton NAFTA-WTO-deregulated economy. Sounds like a parallel universe. All of my adult life the economic talk has been of “competitiveness”. As in, “No you can’t have a raise, but how about a nice pay cut to protect your job? Gotta stay competitive you know?!”

      My mother’s second husband, who was born in 1944, is old enough to remember the days you speak of, but he watches a lot of MSNBC and is fond of extolling “but they only take the jobs Americans won’t do” every time the topic of illegal immigration comes up. It’s a very popular talking point. I politely attempt to remind people who parrot these specious neoliberal talking points, that Americans will gladly do many jobs that are currently being performed by a chiefly black market labor force, but they will not do these jobs for what is currently being offered. What is being offered is typically a cash-under-the-table wage that is quite often less than minimum wage, with no benefits, none of the state mandated breaks, safety equipment or other bare minimum requirements that prevent work sites from being hellish death traps. This black market labor population which is typically “undocumented” according to today’s PC parlance, is frequently on the receiving end of wage theft by their bosses. They have little recourse and usually their employers suffer no consequences, so no this is not the type of bullshit working arrangement most native-born Americans are willing to tolerate. The sub-standard and frequently illegal working conditions and wages being offered today in the United States is thanks to a massive pool of surplus, undocumented labor, and very lax to nonexistent enforcement of labor laws. This pool of surplus, undocumented is labor is still being grown as a matter of unspoken US labor policy. Sanctuary cities/states which provide generous subsidies and benefits (education, childcare, healthcare, housing assistance) to illegal immigrants and plenty of low-wage work opportunities know very well what they are doing. Our current surplus labor pool/race-to-the-bottom policies are just another redistributive tool the very rich are using to suck wealth away from the native working class, reappropriating it for themselves but at a great societal cost. Truth, justice, labor protections enacted over many years and social cohesion are all victims of this fraudulent wealth transfer.

  6. Ford Prefect

    I think the power brokers view the US moving towards Third World metrics as a feature not a bug.

    1. Tom Bradford

      It’s cheaper to bring the third world to your factory than to take your factory to the third world.

  7. KYrocky

    From the link concerning college tuition:
    It was not uncommon in the 1960s for a person to be able to pay for their entire year’s tuition and fees with a part-time summer job, or for parents with a blue-collar job to be able to afford a child’s tuition by saving a few weeks of their salary. Since the 1970s, however, the average cost of undergraduate tuition has more than doubled when adjusted for inflation.

    Once upon a time in America, part-time minimum wage for a summer would cover tuition for a year. It did for me. USNEWS reports that for 2018-2019 the average cost for a year of in-state tuition and fees was just under $10,000. That is more than you can bring home working fulltime earning minimum wage for an entire year.

    I am sorry, but continuing to repeat the trope that tuition costs have “doubled” since the 70’s due to inflation is utter crap. Tuition is up at least a minimum of ten-fold since the 70’sand double that at many schools.

    When the “adjusted for inflation” comparison bears so little relation to the difference in the amount of our labor needed for purchase of the same product, for so many things, the reason the status quo is failing is obvious. It has been failing for a long time, at least a generation, and official government reporting measures have deliberately masked that reality.

    Our labor, in terms of what it can purchase, is worth far, far less than it used to be, and its value continues to fall.

    I know from my experience in the 70’s and my children’s recently that the measure of relative cost should no longer be what “inflation” comparisons yield, but how many hours of labor, using minimum wage as our national benchmark, how much labor was needed then versus now to purchase our commodities.

    1. Phil in KC

      I would certainly agree. I have detailed my college finances here more than once, so to get straight to the point, here’s the deal. To pay for two semesters of college at the U. of Kansas, fees and books, room and board in a dormitory, in the upcoming academic year 2019-2020, and have a little pocket money, a student would have to find a a full-time job that pays nearly $50.00/hour and work it for twelve weeks.

      I was able to pay for all that with a job that paid $4.25/hour in 1974. I pumped gas at a service station for twelve weeks in the summer before I started college.

      If an 18-year-old can find a $50.00/hour job, I’d suggest forgoing college and keeping that job. If you want to attend college for reasons beyond insuring your financial security (wisdom, pursuit of truth, passion for a certain field of study) then do it in your spare time. But we all know those $50.00/hour jobs just aren’t there.

    2. WheresOurTeddy

      My sister graduated from a private university in Southern California in 1991. She paid $15,000 per year 30 years ago.

      When I visited the same place in 2000 scouting colleges, it was nearly $30,000 per year.

      I just checked the website for the college in question. Undergrad tuition: $42,900 per year.

      Who is this product for, really?

      1. Cal2

        Then there’s the “in state” vs “out of state” tuition.

        In California, if one crosses over from say, Ashland, Oregon to attend U.C.Berkeley, they pay out of state tuition. $42,324

        If however, an illegal immigrant sneaks across the border and manages to allegedly attend a semester of high school in California and then graduate, they pay “In state” tuition. $12,570,
        plus get other perks reserved for identarians.

        “At least twenty states and the District of Columbia have “tuition equity” laws or policies that permit certain students who have attended and graduated from secondary schools in their state to pay the same tuition as their “in-state” classmates at their state’s public institutions of higher education, regardless of their immigration status. The states are California…” List follows:

        Sure it’s nice to educate the world, but someone has to pay for it.

  8. Joe Well

    I am shocked that the US has more income inequality than South Korea and is not far from Mexico, having been in both places.

    You can see other countries more clearly than you can see your own, and those countries are shockingly unequal. Both countries have had major shake-ups in top political leadership in the last couple of years. Let’s hope for the same for the US.

    1. Jerry B

      Joe – maybe an answer to your question is this:

      On this list South Korea is a little below the US while Mexico is far below.

      While the US has a severe homeless problem, food insecurity, and other issues, I think the reason you cannot “see” the inequality in the US as easily is the poor in this country have resources for getting “some” of their basic needs met i.e. food pantries, shelters, etc. While maybe the “poor” in countries like Mexico and South Korea area very poor and the rich in those countries would be considered upper middle class in the US. An example would be people who live in the favelas in Rio, Brazil versus the wealthy who live in gated communities in Rio.

      Another example would be access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Many people in other countries do not have a toilet, shower, and drinking water in their home and have to walk to obtain it.

      Where the US’s inequality is so high is the obscenity of the high incomes and wealth. The US is obscenely top heavy.

      There are many things people in the US take for granted that made us a prosperous and civil society. The neoliberal (or whatever term) movement since the 70’s to undo all of the public services, infrastructure, affordable housing, etc. is and will continue to move the US further down/up the inequality and human development lists. Maybe when society completely breaks down and the pitchforks are at the front doors of the elites will they realize how precious a civilized society is.

      I hope I made sense here. Even though it is 11am in Chicago, for a night own like me it is early!!

      1. Joe Well

        Jerry, I was referencing the graph “Income Inequality Among OECD Countries” presented in the post right here on this page.

        The US has a worse GINI coefficient than South Korea, and the gap between the US and Mexico is about as large as the gap between the US and Canada.

        Having spent significant time in both South Korea and Mexico, I can tell you that in both places very few people are without indoor plumbing, though in the case of Mexico the government cannot be trusted to provide water that is safe to drink from the tap. In both countries, what is immediately evident is the vast gap between the well-to-do and the vast majority of the people. But if I open my eyes, the same is now true of the US.

        1. Jerry B

          Thanks Joe. I think the point of my comment is that you referred to South Korea and Mexico as shockingly unequal. I think the US is shockingly unequal but in a different way i.e. more obscene wealth. Also when I said “I think the reason you cannot “see” the inequality in the US”, by “you” I was in part speaking symbolically/metaphorically as in many people in the US do not “see” how unequal the US has become. Like you said, if many people opened their eyes they would see it.

          Also while many people in South Korea and Mexico may indoor plumbing, electric/gas stoves, etc. there are many, many people in the world that do not. There is a lot in the US that many people take for granted, and the gross inequality and lack of funding of public institutions will continue to erode the foundations of this country.

          A fear I have shared with Lambert is I am 60 years old and remember a time in our history when our society was much better and more equal. But when those of us who “remember when” are gone and people think sky high college tuition is normal, sky high housing is normal, and sky high healthcare costs are normal, then who will show the young people this was not always like this.

      2. Joe Well

        Sorry to reply again, your comment just reflects a common misunderstanding by Americans of conditions in other countries that I thought it was important to clarify, a teaching moment.

        I need to shout this from the rooftops: the so-called “middle-income countries” like Mexico, Chile, and even Peru, are not nearly as underdeveloped, and conversely, the US is not as highly developed, as many Americans imagine. The gap is not that great and these countries show us what our near-future highly unequal US will increasingly look like.

        Mexico, the real Mexico and not tourist-land, is not filled with beggars anymore than the US. Young working Mexicans live in only somewhat more modest homes and apartments than their US counterparts. Rates of ownership of consumer goods like cell phones are not that much lower. Public transportation is vastly superior to the US, from local buses to the Mexico City metro to de luxe inter-city motor coaches.

        And Mexico’s rich are super rich. Carlos Slim, richest person in Mexico, has been the wealthiest person in the world several different years.

        And there are also private charity programs and entitlement programs, including some amount of free government-provided healthcare.

        It’s just that the public subsidies are less generous, wages are even stingier, unemployment is even higher, racism is extreme (a tiny white minority holds most positions of influence and prestige)…it’s fundamentally the same as the US, only somewhat worse. And we in the US are headed in that exact same direction.

        1. Jerry B

          ===your comment just reflects a common misunderstanding by Americans of conditions in other countries that I thought it was important to clarify, a teaching moment.===

          In my case I do not think it was a “common misunderstanding”. Maybe I did not make myself clear as I mentioned it was early for me. I completely am aware that “the so-called “middle-income countries” like Mexico, Chile, and even Peru, are not nearly as underdeveloped”. And like you mentioned in some ways maybe even more developed than the US with government provided healthcare and superior public transportation.

          But as you also mention:

          It’s just that the public subsidies are less generous, wages are even stingier, unemployment is even higher, racism is extreme (a tiny white minority holds most positions of influence and prestige)…it’s fundamentally the same as the US, only somewhat worse. And we in the US are headed in that exact same direction.

          The point of my comment was as you just said “it’s fundamentally the same as the US, only somewhat worse”. As you mention Mexico does have super rich but IMO the US has many more rich and super rich as evidenced by some of the links I included.

          I agree with you that the US is not as highly developed as people imagine. It seems like our views are not that different. IMO other countries still have a middle class but in the US it has been hollowed out and now there is more poverty and also more wealth.

          Your “teaching moment” was not needed. I have worked in plastics injection molding for 25 years mostly in manufacturing. During that time I have worked around many people from Mexico, Central America, etc and I have learned a lot about those countries. I am also a first generation American as my parents immigrated here from Czechoslovakia. So I have done my share of traveling outside of the US as well, mostly to Europe

  9. Brooklin Bridge

    This short article would have come in immeasurably handy a few years ago to point out why Trump was going to win regardless of what I did or didn’t do at the polls. Blame the messenger all you want – I wish I had pointed out* – but the result of this election has been cooked into the mix over the last 50 years and has nothing to do with whether or not I vote for Hillary, and to understand it all you have to do is look at the share of wealth, that thin blue ribbon rip off line that’s almost invisible, and represents what’s left over for the whole f*****g bottom half of the country, not to even mention the income inequality chart of OECD countries.

    I’ll keep a copy in my back pocket for this next time, if, god forbid, the DNC manages to Stalin in Biden, but I know in advance it will be missing when and if I actually need it this time around.

    *(to good friends, one summer evening, who simply couldn’t understand why I was suddenly a, G-A-S-P, socialist openly admitting to the ultimate sin of not voting for Hillary no matter how bad I thought she was due to the, H-O-R-R-O-R-S, alternative. That thin blue line really hits home. So much better than my lame explanation that I was fed up to the point that anything would be better than the self ratcheting “no where else to go” argument)

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Actually, my argument was a little more complete, though by no means original, than “anything is better than.” Drawing the line had (and still has) to be done or the generational cycle of “no where else to go” will never end. Thanks to people like Bernie and AOC (to mention just two) I think that message is starting to get through.

      That said, to people who have been worked up into a panic, such arguments and possibly any arguments make absolutely no sense at all. Understanding this, and having some empathy for the great fault of being human, is probably more helpful than scorn.

  10. P S BAKER

    First graph makes no sense to me … the top 1% finish at ~65%, so who has the final ~35%?

    And the bottom 50% seem to have no wealth at all … can it be that bad?

    1. rd

      I believe that is the 1%-10% pool that is typically professionals, managers, and small business owners. In many cases, the people who were able to make good use of their college and university degrees.

      This group has held their own over the past 30 years and even improved a little bit.

    2. kernel

      Yes, PSB, it can be that bad. “Wealth” is presumably Net Assets = Assets – Liabilities. The Bottom Half has so much Debt that their Net Assets are roughly Zero. Look closely at the bar for 2010: the Blue part is below the Zero-line; assets evaporated (foreclosure, etc), jobs disappeared, and people survived on credit.

      Yes, I can believe that 1/2 the population of the USA is living check-to-check with no cushion. Y’aughta get out more often.

  11. georgieboy

    “A higher percentage of children in the United States live in poverty(nearly 21%) than the population as a whole.”

    This is the saddest observation. It predicts their future, and ours, absent a dramatic change.

    Just asking: how might childhood poverty in the US have been different absent the huge immigration of the past 40 years? How many black kids, for example, might be living in healthier households if the ‘supply of cheap labor’ had not been continually refreshed with the approval and consent of the 1%?

    Is that even something the oracles in the cult of homo economicus can even speak to?

  12. Susan the other`

    Here’s an interesting observation. The pundits against Trump, MSNBC for instance, attack him for his behavior; his dumb mistakes, his silly hairdo, his posturing – but they never take a chart like this and say: ” What the hell?? This country has been devastated and Trump hasn’t done anything to fix it. And none of the democrats have either.” But they do visibly avoid talking about how popular Bernie’s ideas are. It’s obvious nobody wants to get near the dreadful reality of our inequality and lack of democracy. It’s omertà no doubt. Much like when the air space in NYC was violated so blatantly on 9/11 – but nobody really followed up on that astonishing fact. And innumerable other examples of our “democracy” in action. Nice to have these facts presented so clearly, about our economic inequality – but you have to be a reader to find them. In this day and age that’s a little too hopeful. Just imagine if the news channels talked about this stuff and other important things? It would be a different world.

    1. WheresOurTeddy

      “Just imagine if the news channels talked about this stuff and other important things? It would be a different world.”

      we don’t talk about Yemen either.

      1. polecat

        Well, it’s been a known fact, that for many cliquish high-schoolers who never grew up, their ONLY concern is the twin pillars of dominance and ridicule !

        I’d posit that most of the top-tier demo(lition)graphic fit into this group … like a hand to a spiked iron gauntlet.

  13. flora

    The return rise of monopoly power and concentrated finance since the 1970s has made almost everyone in the 90% poorer and less secure than they were in the 60’s, imo.

  14. John

    Predatory neoliberal capitalism = socialism for the rich = American system. It took them 80 years, but the oligarchs who wanted Smedley Butler to take out Roosevelt in the 30’s have definitely won. Question is: what are we going to do about it?

  15. NoBrick

    Financial privilege, sanctioned by law, seems like the hallmark of the status quo aristrocracy.
    Yet, the invocations of democracy, are continued, as if equality under the law, established by
    the status quo, wasn’t an illusion.

    The founding fathers said…The founding fathers meant…

    Vote for Joe, or Bernie, or Liz, or Pete, or (fill in), and the **UNELECTED** dictators
    will still be calling the shots.

    Unless contradictions are brought to a head, we will remain the same.

    The illusion that the plight of the poor and vulnerable can be held at bay through the
    electoral process, is YEARS past it’s expiration date.

    Maybe it’s time to STOP repeating the bosses’ propaganda…

  16. Denis Drew

    “The poverty rate in the United States has remained relatively constant at about 13%.”

    Keeping in mind that the poverty rate was set arbitrarily in 1968 at 3X the cost of an emergency diet (no expensive canned beans; only dried please) — and keeping in mind that the measure which may have happened to reflect reality 50 years ago has gotten more and more out of sync with the real poverty line (which would have been at least twice as high) — that supposedly “constant” 13% is really an ever more inaccurate measure of the real world.
    * * * * * *

    Annual Minimum Needs Budget Without Employment Health Benefits — two adults, one child
    2001 Ms. Foundation book Raise the Floor, p. 44, table 2-3 (1999 dollars converted to 2018 dollars)

    11,792 * Housing
    9,722 * Health Care
    7,089 * Food
    6,987 * Child Care
    0 * School Ave Care
    3,135 * Transportation
    1,741 * Clothing and Personal Expenses
    745 * Household Expenses
    836 * Telephone
    42,052 * Subtotal Before Taxes

    3,217 * Payroll Tax
    1,759 * Federal Tax (including credits)
    631 * State Tax (including credits)
    47,661 * Total

    1. PrairieRose

      This. This is reality. This list should be e-mailed to every single elected representative. Don’t see any wiggle room here. Don’t see any extras in here, like vacations or expensive coffees or meals out or a new car.

      Thank you for posting it. Bernie? Elizabeth? Somebody wanna take this and run with it?

      This is why Americans are so angry.

  17. John Wright

    What I dislike about this posting is an apparent attempt to cast the median white families as relatively wealthy, when this is NOT the case in absolute dollar terms.

    “The racial wealth gap has exploded. Whereas in the 1970s the median net worth of White households was around 1,500% higher than the median net worth of Black households, by 2016 White household median net worth was 4,000% higher than that of Black households, because Black net worth is actually shrinking.”

    By stating the wealth ratios in percentage terms and not in actual dollar figures, this hides the fact that NO racial group is doing well at the median level, despite some large percentage increases for the median white household relative to other groups.


    The median net worth of a white family in the USA is about 171K, Black family 17.6K and Hispanic 20.7K.

    This is a large difference, but the numbers argue to me that that NO racial group, at the median level, is doing well, so any implied attempt to suggest redistributing wealth from the relatively wealthy median white family would be political suicide, because the median white family is not in great financial shape either.

    For example, the median USA house price is about 200K per

    This suggests that MOST USA home owning families at the median level, have few, if any, financial assets outside their home, making funding surprise emergencies, schooling, and large medical bills a difficult task.

    For a family with few financial assets outside their home, monetizing their house could suggest renting rooms, taking out a home equity loan or doing a reverse mortgage.

    That does not suggest a remarkable disparity in “wealth” to me.

  18. Janie

    Compare images of most major European cities immediately post WII to those of American cities. Compare the same cities now. Berlin comes to my mind.

  19. Tyronius

    I know this is an older post but we’ll worth rereading; America is NOT doing well compared to its peers or even by comparison to many developing nations. We are declining, the decisions over time to cut wages, services and costs are destroying our population’s well being. This is what a slow motion Great Depression in the 21st century looks like. At what point will the American People stand up and demand to be heard and respected? If it isn’t bad enough now, what will it take?

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