Are America’s Rich Getting Tired of Winning Yet?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

The obituaries for Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chair who died last Sunday at age 92, have been consistently echoing a truly heroic narrative. Between 1979 and 1987, as one prominent obit pronounced, Volcker’s bold and sweeping interest rate hikes shocked “the U.S. economy out of a cycle of inflation and malaise and so set the stage for a generation of prosperity.”

But prosperity for who?

Economist Gabriel Zucman has just delivered the most telling answer yet.

In a special analysis prepared for the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, the University of California at Berkeley scholar has compared current average American incomes — in six different income ranges — to average incomes at the start of every decade since 1970.

Zucman’s income figures take into account both the taxes Americans pay federal and state governments and the transfers — everything from Social Security checks to veteran assistance — that go from government to individual Americans. In other words, his new breakdown shows what Americans had left in their wallets after paying their taxes and pocketing their benefits.

Some Americans, the new numbers show, had much more left than others. Phenomenally more. For America’s richest, the past half-century could hardly have been more prosperous.

In 1970, the nation’s top 1 percent averaged $328,816, in today’s dollars. By 2018, that top 1 percent average had more than tripled, to $1,152,232.

But the most striking after-tax, after-transfer gains have gone to Americans even higher up in the economic pecking order. Average top 0.1 percent incomes have more than quintupled since 1970, from just over $1 million to over $5 million. Average top 0.01 incomes have jumped over six-fold, from $3.7 million in 1970 to $24.2 million in 2018.

In essence, America’s very richest — the top one-hundredth of our top 1 percent — have on average added about $427,000 to their incomes every year since 1970.

The bottom 50 percent of Americans have added to their incomes, too — all of an average $167 a year.

To read more, click here.

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Steel for Wind Power

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

Siemens Gamesa last month laid off 130 workers at its turbine blade manufacturing plant in Iowa, just months after GE Renewable Energy decided to close an Arkansas factory and eliminate 470 jobs.

The companies reported shrinking demand for their products, even though U.S. consumption of wind energy increases every year.

America’s prosperity depends not only on harnessing this crucial energy source but also ensuring that highly skilled U.S. workers build the components with the cleanest technology available.

Right now, the nation relies on imported steel and turbine components from foreign manufacturers like China while America’s own steel industry—well equipped for this production—struggles because of dumping and other unfair trade practices.

Steel makes up the bulk of turbine hubs and the wind towers themselves. It’s also used to make the cranes and platforms necessary for installing the towers.

Yet the potential boon to America’s steel industry is just one reason to ramp up domestic production of wind energy infrastructure.

American steel production ranks among the cleanest in the world, while China has the highest carbon emissions of any steelmaking nation and flouts environmental regulations.

The nation’s highly-skilled steelmaking workforce must play an essential role in the deeply-needed revitalization and modernization of the nation’s failing infrastructure. Producing the components for harnessing wind energy domestically and cleanly is an important step that will put Americans to work and position the United States to be world leaders in this growing industry.

 

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work