This one comes via Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:
Yes – between the beginning of 2002 and the end of 2006, the United States GDP grew by over 15% – while the median wage flatlined, not going up by a single percent. In short, the country got ever richer – but the middle class saw nothing of that wealth. It was pocketed in its entirety by the wealthiest, with an assist from the tax cuts that the Bush administration heavily slanted in their favour.
Are there any recent historic precedents of such a disconnect, in which double-digit national economic growth was not accompanied by any improvement whatsoever for the average American? Was it this bad under Reagan, or Thatcher?
Pondering these numbers, Drum approvingly quotes an article by Joe Klein on Time’s blog Swampland: “We have had 30 years of class warfare, in which the wealthy strip-mined the middle class.” He adds:
For three decades we’ve artificially kept middle class wage increases far below the growth rate of the economy, and this trend has been even more pronounced over the past eight years. This has created an enormous pool of extra money that’s been — yes — strip mined and redirected to the rich, and fixing this is Barack Obama’s biggest and longest-term challenge.
If we restore the normal growth of middle class wages, it provides a sustainable consumer base for the entire economy; it reduces the demand for endless credit card debt; it brings down income inequality naturally; and it goes a long way toward keeping the financial sector under control and reining in Wall Street salaries without putting in place a bunch of artificial (and probably fruitless) regulations. [..] Stop the strip mining and economic vigor will follow. It’s at the core of everything.
UPDATE: Lane Kenworthy, a Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Arizona, had a blog post earlier this month that traces the trend further back, to the Reagan era: Slow Income Growth for Middle America (h/t to A2K user Hawkeye). The pattern is pretty devastating – and he’s got a telling graph too:
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