The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

The Real Numbers: Half of America in Poverty -- and It's Creeping Upward

anticapitalist:

The Census Bureau has reported that one out of six Americans lives in poverty. A shocking figure. But it’s actually much, much worse.

1. Almost half of Americans had NO assets in 2009

Analysis of Economic Policy Institute data shows that Mitt Romney’s famous 47 percent, the alleged ‘takers,’ have taken nothing. Their debt exceeded their assets in 2009.

2. It’s Even Worse 3 Years Later

Since the recession, the disparities have continued to grow. An OECD report states that “inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,” with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries. The 30-year decline in wages has worsened since the recession, as low-wage jobs have replaced formerly secure middle-income positions.

3. Based on wage figures, half of Americans are in or near poverty.

The IRS reports that the highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to 130% of the federal poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.

Even the Census Bureau recognizes that its own figures under-represent the number of people in poverty. Its Supplemental Poverty Measure increases, by 50%, the number of Americans who earn between one-half and two times the poverty threshold.

4. Based on household expense totals, poverty is creeping into the top half of America.

A family in the top half, making $60,000 per year, will have their income reduced by a total tax bill of about $15,000 ($3,000 for federal income tax and $12,000 for payroll, state, and local taxes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau agree that food, housing, and transportation expenses will deduct another $30,000, and that total household expenditures will be about $50,000. That leaves nothing.

Nothing, that is, except debt. The median debt level rose to $75,600 in 2009, while the median family net worth, according to the Federal Reserve, dropped from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010.

5. Putting it in Perspective

Inequality is at its ugliest for the hungriest people. While food support was being targeted for cuts, just 20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire 2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on the Forbes list made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the food, housing, and education budgets combined.

Woah

(Source: anticapitalist)

New figures show inequality has sharply widened in the two-year recovery following the period known as the Great Recession. According to the Pew Research Center, the top 7 percent of U.S. households saw their income jump 28 percent, while that of the remaining 93 percent declined. The wealth gap separating the top 7 percent from the rest jumped from a ratio of 18-to-1 in 2009 to 24-to-1 in 2011. Inequality Widened During Post-Recession Period

anarcho-queer:

Richest 1% Captured 121% of Income Gains During ‘Recovery’ While Bottom 99% Income Shrunk

Last year, economist Emmanuel Saez estimated that the richest 1 percent of the U.S. captured a whopping 93 percent of the income gains in 2010, as the U.S. was emerging from the Great Recession. Saez is now back with updated numbers from 2011, and they make the picture look even grimmer:

From 2009 to 2011, average real income per family grew modestly by 1.7% (Table 1) but the gains were very uneven. Top 1% incomes grew by 11.2% while bottom 99% incomes shrunk by 0.4%. Hence, the top 1% captured 121% of the income gains in the first two years of the recovery. From 2009 to 2010, top 1% grew fast and then stagnated from 2010 to 2011. Bottom 99% stagnated both from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011.

How is it possible for the 1 percent to capture more than all of the nation’s income gains? The number is due to the fact that those at the bottom saw their incomes drop. As Timothy Noah explained in the New Republic, “the one percent didn’t just gobble up all of the recovery during 2010 and 2011; it put the 99 percent back into recession.

Saez added that “In 2012, top 1% income will likely surge, due to booming stock-prices, as well as re-timing of income to avoid the higher 2013 top tax rates…This suggests that the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s.

(via eyesdriftskyward)

As Dan Ariely (Duke University) and Mike Norton (Harvard University) have shown empirically, 40% of the US population, the 40% less well off, own 0.3%, that is, three-tenths of one percent, of America’s personal wealth. Who owns the other 99.7%? The top 20% have 84% of the country’s wealth. Those Americans in the third and fourth quintiles–essentially America’s middle class–have only 15.7% of the nation’s wealth. Such an unequal distribution of income is unprecedented in the economically developed world. In my day, confronted with such disparity in the distribution of income and wealth, a disparity that obviously poses a dramatic problem for economic policy, political stability, and the macro management of the economy, Democrats would have demanded corrections, and Republicans would have reluctantly agreed. But not today. Both political parties whore for money. Paul Craig Roberts

Cake: on the having and eating of it | Chris Bertram

Hi there liberal rule-of-law fetishists!

Now that I’ve got your attention, I’d like to mention something that’s been bothering me. This idea that we all order our affairs under a system of predictable rules sounds very nice, but I do wonder whether it’s compatible with some of the other things that you seem to be signed up for. Some of you, I know, are worried about this so-called 1 per cent, and even about the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent: the people who own lots of stuff. Not only do they own lots of stuff, but they own the kind of stuff that is useful if you want to own even more stuff. That’s how it goes. And, of course, they also have the means to bring about a favourable “regulatory environment”, so that they get to hold onto that stuff.

Now I suppose you want to do something about that? Yes? One option would be to let them hang onto all their existing assets – after all, they got them justly (or at least non-criminally) according to the rules of the system they themselves helped to formulate – but to introduce a new system of rules (call it a “basic structure” if you like) that works to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged. Assume you have the knowledge to design it with the distributive effects you want (big assumption that!). Let that system grind away for long enough – a few generations perhaps – and you’ll have shifted things a little bit in the right direction. (Assuming, that is, that the 1 per cent don’t use their residual wealth and influence to throw you off-track as soon as you hit the first bump.)

I think you can see where I’m going by now. If you really want a shift in the distribution of wealth and income, if you really really want it, then realistically you’re going to have to use state power to do a bit of ex post redistribution. You’re going to have to take stuff from some people and give it to others. Doesn’t necessarily have to be that total Marxian expropriation of the expropriators: a comprehensive programme of debt cancellation would fit the bill. Life is about making choices: and you’re going to have to choose. Is it outrageous to dispossess someone of the wealth they acquired under the rules of the game; or are you going to say that substantive fairness sometimes matters more?

Now I know there are some wrinkles there. What about predictability? What about incentives? Sure. (Of course the predictability of stable property rules is a bit overstated: all those people who got their houses repossessed when the economy went bad didn’t see that coming!) You might have to duck and weave. You might have to convince property owners that you’ll only go so far and no further. But don’t kid yourselves that you can do the redistribution you want and treat the rule of law as absolute. If robbing the rich appalls you, become a libertarian instead. [++]

shiracoffee:

(from Ezra Klein by Dylan Matthews)
So, it turns out that pretty much the entire developed world has a higher median family wealth level that the US? Why is that?
In the rest of the developed world, people cannot be bankrupted by medical expenses.
In the rest of the developed world, no one leaves college with enormous student debt.
In the rest of the developed world, workers are protected by the government, so there are far fewer working poor families.
In the rest of the developed world, farmers aren’t in bondage to agribusiness megacorporations who keep profits low.
In the rest of the developed world, old people are not required to be paupers to get long-term care.
And that doesn’t even address quality of life issues such as longer vacations, safer streets, paid parental leave, healthier food, healthier citizens, better-educated young people…
If all this is “un-American”, then what does it mean to be “American”? Does it mean to be sick, insecure, ignorant?

shiracoffee:

(from Ezra Klein 

(Source: wateringgoodseeds)

What Middle Class? « thecurrentmoment
"Those who have no reasonable alternative but to sell their labor, as diverse a group as they are, still constitute roughly 80% of the population. These statistics suggest that behind ‘median’ income and compensation there is a much different distribution of wealth, and thus a different class structure than concepts like ‘middle class’ can make sense of."

What Middle Class? « thecurrentmoment

"Those who have no reasonable alternative but to sell their labor, as diverse a group as they are, still constitute roughly 80% of the population. These statistics suggest that behind ‘median’ income and compensation there is a much different distribution of wealth, and thus a different class structure than concepts like ‘middle class’ can make sense of."

Why The Very Rich Have NOT Earned Their Money | Paul Buchheit

1. They’ve Taken All the Middle Class Wage Increases

In 1980 the richest 1% of America took one of every fifteen post-tax income dollars. Now, according to IRS figures, they take THREE of every fifteen (doc) post-tax income dollars. They’ve tripled their cut of America’s income pie. That’s a trillion extra dollars a year.

For every dollar the richest 1% earned in 1980, they’ve added three more dollars. The poorest 90% have added ONE CENT.

Yet the average American factory worker, according to Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti, produces $180,000 worth of goods a year, more than three times what he or she produced in 1978, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

So workers have TRIPLED their productivity over 30 years while the richest 1% have TRIPLED their share of income. Worker pay remained flat as the top 10% took almost all the productivity gains since 1980.

Four more reasons

Why Some Countries Go Bust

By his own admission, Daron Acemoglu is a slightly pudgy and fairly nerdy guy with an unpronounceable last name. But when I mentioned that I was interviewing him to two econ buffs, they each gasped and said, “I love Daron Acemoglu,” as if I were talking about Keith Richards. The Turkish M.I.T. professor — who, right now, is about as hot as economists get — acquired his renown for serious advances in answering the single most important question in his profession, the same one that compelled Adam Smith to write “The Wealth of Nations”: why are some countries rich while others are poor?

Over the centuries, proposed answers have varied greatly. Smith declared that the difference between wealth and poverty resulted from the relative freedom of the markets; Thomas Malthus said poverty comes from overpopulation; and John Maynard Keynes claimed it was a byproduct of a lack of technocrats. (Of course, everyone knows that politicians love listening to wonky bureaucrats!) Jeffrey Sachs, one of the world’s most famous economists, asserts that poor soil, lack of navigable rivers and tropical diseases are, in part, to blame. Others point to culture, geography, climate, colonization and military might. The list goes on.

But through a series of legendary — and somewhat controversial — academic papers published over the past decade, Acemoglu has persuasively challenged many of the previous theories. (If poverty were primarily the result of geography, say, or an unfortunate history, how can we account for the successes of Botswana, Costa Rica or Thailand?) Now, in their new book, “Why Nations Fail,” Acemoglu and his collaborator, James Robinson, argue that the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy. It’s an idea that was first raised by Smith but was then largely ignored for centuries as economics became focused on theoretical models of ideal economies rather than the not-at-all-ideal problems of real nations.

Consider Acemoglu’s idea from the perspective of a poor farmer. In parts of modern sub-Saharan Africa, as was true in medieval Europe or the antebellum South, the people who work the fields lack any incentive to improve their yield because any surplus is taken by the wealthy elite. This mind-set changes only when farmers are given strong property rights and discover that they can profit from extra production. In 1978, China began allowing farmers to benefit from any surplus they produced. The decision, most economists agree, helped spark the country’s astounding growth.

According to Acemoglu’s thesis, when a nation’s institutions prevent the poor from profiting from their work, no amount of disease eradication, good economic advice or foreign aid seems to help. I observed this firsthand when I visited a group of Haitian mango farmers a few years ago. Each farmer had no more than one or two mango trees, even though their land lay along a river that could irrigate their fields and support hundreds of trees. So why didn’t they install irrigation pipes? Were they ignorant, indifferent? In fact, they were quite savvy and lived in a region teeming with well-intended foreign-aid programs. But these farmers also knew that nobody in their village had clear title to the land they farmed. If they suddenly grew a few hundred mango trees, it was likely that a well-connected member of the elite would show up and claim their land and its spoils. What was the point?

(Source: azspot)

anticapitalist:

The Middle Class Really Is in a Three-Decade Slump
Did middle-class incomes really decouple from overall economic growth in the mid-’70s? If you look at median family income vs. GDP per capita, the answer is yes. From 1950 through 1975, both grew at about the same rate. After that, median family income grew quite a bit more slowly than GDP per capita.
But wait! You need to make sure to calculate inflation the same way for both measures. And maybe GDP per capita is a bad measure. Plus you need to account for health insurance and other benefits when you calculate median income. And the number of people per household has changed over time. These are all legitimate issues. So Lane Kenworthy redrew the chart to compare apples to apples: median household income vs. average household income.Median income shows only the movement of households that are smack in the middle of the middle class, while average income is similar to overall economic growth since it depends on total national income.
In the chart above, the black lines are the original comparison. The red lines are the new comparison. As you can see, there’s really not much difference. “Decoupling,” say Kenworthy, “is real and sizable.” The rich really are hoovering up a much bigger share of national income than they used to. The only thing left to argue about is why, not whether.

anticapitalist:

The Middle Class Really Is in a Three-Decade Slump

Did middle-class incomes really decouple from overall economic growth in the mid-’70s? If you look at median family income vs. GDP per capita, the answer is yes. From 1950 through 1975, both grew at about the same rate. After that, median family income grew quite a bit more slowly than GDP per capita.

But wait! You need to make sure to calculate inflation the same way for both measures. And maybe GDP per capita is a bad measure. Plus you need to account for health insurance and other benefits when you calculate median income. And the number of people per household has changed over time. These are all legitimate issues. So Lane Kenworthy redrew the chart to compare apples to apples: median household income vs. average household income.Median income shows only the movement of households that are smack in the middle of the middle class, while average income is similar to overall economic growth since it depends on total national income.

In the chart above, the black lines are the original comparison. The red lines are the new comparison. As you can see, there’s really not much difference. “Decoupling,” say Kenworthy, “is real and sizable.” The rich really are hoovering up a much bigger share of national income than they used to. The only thing left to argue about is why, not whether.

(Source: anticapitalist, via brosephstalin-deactivated201212)

Expropriating the expropriated (1983-2009), or, Why It’s the Top 20 not Top 1% That Matter | thecurrentmoment

When we first looked at this chart, we started reading from the left and adding the numbers but did a double take by the time we added the Top 1%, Next 4%, Next 5%, and Next 10% – or the top 20%. Add their shares together and you get 101.7%. At first that just didn’t seem right, since our assumption was that when you add up all the shares one would get 100%. Naively, we had assumed that, while radically unequal, the gain in wealth for all quintiles would positive. A piece of folk philosophy in the United States is that the rich can gain huge gobs of money and power, so long as the poorest can also have some piece; and that those who rise do so on their own merits, but not by making the worst off even worse off. That, as it turns out, is also a premise of the most influential theory of justice in contemporary political philosophy, which states that the only permissible inequalities are those that make the worst off better off than they otherwise would be under pure equality.
The past twenty-five years have followed a different path from mainstream, common sense theories of justice. The worst have been made worse off. Meanwhile, the massive gains of the top 20% were only as large as they were because wealth was redistributed from the poor to the rich (with very moderate gains for the top 20-40%). The expropriated were expropriated some more.

Expropriating the expropriated (1983-2009), or, Why It’s the Top 20 not Top 1% That Matter | thecurrentmoment

When we first looked at this chart, we started reading from the left and adding the numbers but did a double take by the time we added the Top 1%, Next 4%, Next 5%, and Next 10% – or the top 20%. Add their shares together and you get 101.7%. At first that just didn’t seem right, since our assumption was that when you add up all the shares one would get 100%. Naively, we had assumed that, while radically unequal, the gain in wealth for all quintiles would positive. A piece of folk philosophy in the United States is that the rich can gain huge gobs of money and power, so long as the poorest can also have some piece; and that those who rise do so on their own merits, but not by making the worst off even worse off. That, as it turns out, is also a premise of the most influential theory of justice in contemporary political philosophy, which states that the only permissible inequalities are those that make the worst off better off than they otherwise would be under pure equality.

The past twenty-five years have followed a different path from mainstream, common sense theories of justice. The worst have been made worse off. Meanwhile, the massive gains of the top 20% were only as large as they were because wealth was redistributed from the poor to the rich (with very moderate gains for the top 20-40%). The expropriated were expropriated some more.

Our Suicidal Ruling Class | Ted Rall

There is no better predictor of revolution than an absence of economic mobility.

Right-wing extremists dismiss empirical data with anecdotal evidence. “If America is so poor in economic mobility, maybe someone should tell all these people who still want to come to the U.S.,” Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation told the Times.

Someone should.

Most Americans are poor. They don’t need to read these studies. They’re living them. Which is why they want politicians to create big jobs programs, raise wages, establish permanent unemployment benefits (standard in Europe) and impose a moratorium on foreclosures. The polls are clear.

No one cares about Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program.

Yet here we are in the heat of a presidential election year, and no candidate—not “liberal” Obama, not the weird Republican, Ron Paul, no one—is talking about the issues Americans care about.

During the 1930s and 1960s liberal leaders ended street protests by promising change. Why not now? Why isn’t anyone promising to address income inequality? They could lie and break their promises later.

First, the rich are feeling squeezed. The global capitalist system no longer has much room to expand. Emerging markets have emerged. Globalization is not only nearly out of steam, it’s allowing the weakest trading partners to drag down their healthier partners. Feeling squeezed, our rulers aren’t in the mood to be generous. They’d rather loot the scraps of the pending collapse than expand the social safety net.

Second, the ruling classes have fooled themselves into believing that they no longer need to exploit workers in order extract surplus value. They make their profits without us in massive arbitrage transactions that collect spreads from borrowed money. To be sure, it’s a bubble. It’ll burst. But it feels good now.

Third, the rich think they can insulate themselves from the roiling masses of the dispossessed, safe behind high-tech alarm systems inside their gated communities. Arrogance rules.

Louis XVI had good security too.

Finally, there has always been a division within the elites between enlightened liberals and hardass thieves. The liberals don’t like us; they fear us. So they try to keep us satisfied enough not to revolt. The thieves count on brute force—cops, pepper spray, camps—to keep the barbarians at bay. The balance of power has shifted decisively to the thieves—which is why figures like Obama can’t even pretend to care about the issues most important to the great majority of people.

Nearly half of Americans either live in poverty or are low income, census data says | NJ.com

America the exceptional, modern state:

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

The latest census data depict a middle class that’s shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government’s safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

"Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too ‘rich’ to qualify," said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty.

"The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal," he said. "If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years."