Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

Inequality: Class And Race

The Occupy Movement has clearly transformed conversations about the economy.  It is now inequality–in particular, the gap between the top 1% and everyone else–rather than the national debt that dominates the news.

This gap is real, as the following charts from the Economic Policy Institute make clear.  This first one shows the percentage increase in household income over the period 1979 to 2007 by income group.  While the top 1% enjoyed income gains of 224% over the period, the gains enjoyed by the bottom 90% were far more modest–5%.  Equally striking is the fact that the household income of top 0.01% shot up an astounding 390%.

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The second illustrates the fact that the top 1% of households captured approximately 60% of the total income growth over the years 1979 to 2007.

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The third illustrates the fact that the top 1% of households also captured 86.5% of the total growth in capital income (defined as dividends; interest payments; realized capital gains; and other business income,  which includes partnership income, income from S corporations, and rental income).  Strikingly as the Economic Policy Institute explains, “This figure departs from the convention of the other charts in not isolating the bottom 90% because their average capital income fell between 1979 and 2007, registering as negative capital income growth, which is hard to depict in a pie chart.”

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Unfortunately, there is another income gap that has not received nearly as much attention.  It is the white-nonwhite gap.  The Portland, Oregon based Coalition of Communities of Color recently published a report on the socioeconomic situation of people of color in Multnomah Country (which includes Portland) and Oregon. 

As the chart below reveals, the mean income of families of color in the top decile actually declined by $6,002 over the years 1979 to 2007.  By contrast, the mean income of white families in the top decile rose by $122,591.  White families and families of color in the bottom half of the distribution all suffered losses.

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The following two charts show the mean earnings of each group by decile and their change between 1979 and 2007. 

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This last chart shows poverty rates by color.  Clearly, as we work to create a more equitable society, our efforts must also be guided by awareness of the existence of serious racial and ethnic inequities.    

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