The Gap Between the Rich and the Poor Grows Larger

This is not new, but it’s disturbing:

The SSA said 50 percent of workers made less than $26,364 last year — and most Americans have fewer job opportunities available to them. But the wealthiest Americans are relatively unscathed, with those earning $1 million or more jumping 18 percent from 2009.

Total employment fell again last year, dropping from 150.9 million in 2009 to 150.4 million in 2010. And in 2007, at the height of the recession, there were still 5.2 million more jobs than in 2010, the AP wrote.

The average income for Americans was $39,959 last year, but the median wage was just $26,364. The SSA wrote that this shows “the distribution of workers by wage level is highly skewed,” the AP reported.

Thanks, CD, for the link.


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51 comments for “The Gap Between the Rich and the Poor Grows Larger

  1. December 28, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    As Louis C.K. might say, “That’s not good. That’s bad!”
    There’s a blog I stumbled upon that talks about econ and inequality that’s worth checking out, called Rortybomb.

  2. December 28, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    This is one example of how we need several different types of statistics to really see the whole picture.

  3. Miss S
    December 29, 2011 at 12:19 am

    This is horrible and it’s only going to get worse.
    People are struggling to get by, and social services are being cut. People don’t have anything to fall back on.

    It’s terrifying and I don’t know what to do. Thanks for the link Miguel.

  4. Marksman2010
    December 29, 2011 at 12:25 am

    I’d like to us brainstorm now, to discuss some solutions.

  5. Miss S
    December 29, 2011 at 12:28 am

    We need a social safety net and universal health care. We need employment laws like France (I think) where you can’t be fired at any moment for any reason. We need to make it easier for poor people to access higher education.

  6. Miss S
    December 29, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Ha! That’s funny marksman, because i didn’t even see your brainstorming comment.
    This is what I posted on Jez awhile back.

    I view capitalism the same way I view the patriarchy and racism. It benefits a few at the expense of many. In the U.S, we don’t have universal healthcare, maternity leave, or stable safety nets. We have a higher education system that’s out of reach for many people because it’s so expensive.


    People starve because they don’t have access to food. People die because they can’t access healthcare. People live on the streets because they don’t have the resources to access housing. We have food, medical professionals, and empty houses all over this country, but we deny people access to them. That’s oppression, blatant and obvious oppression. Capitalism involves putting a price on everything and pricing people out. A humane society wouldn’t let that happen with necessities like food, shelter and healthcare.

  7. Non-Believer
    December 29, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Things are just fine the way they are. The market decodes how much an individual’s contribution to the economy is worth. The alternative — to have the government determine wages — is Communism.

    This whole wealth disparity meme is pure Occupy Wall Street propaganda. But remember — OWS is an anti-consumerist movement. They wanted to boycott Black Friday and oppose defining wealth as material goods. They want to return to the hunter-gatherer days. I don’t think anyone would be comfortable with that.

  8. Non-Believer
    December 29, 2011 at 12:53 am

    the market decides*

  9. LC
    December 29, 2011 at 12:59 am

    OWS wants to return to the hunter-gatherer days?
    The Market is infallible, and things are just fine as they are?

    Who ARE you?

  10. Kristen J.
    December 29, 2011 at 1:08 am

    @Non-believer,ff

    The market only decides wages if you consider corporations to be efficient allocators of capital…you know those things with diffuse ownership and poor incentive structures.

    This is one of the many things that bugs me about the “free market” asshats, they don’t understand how legal and institutional systems change the equilibriums that markets arrive at. Our current structure is not some immutable law of nature, we can change it and still give people choices.

  11. EG
    December 29, 2011 at 1:17 am

    The market decodes how much an individual’s contribution to the economy is worth.

    And as we all can agree, it is only right and proper that individuals who make insufficient contributions to the economy lack sufficient food, health care, and shelter. Also, their children should be prevented having those things as well as access to adequate education. Any effort to intervene in these arrangements is COMMUNISM! Any suggestion that buying commodities isn’t the be-all and end-all of human existence is COMMUNISM. Everybody knows that if you make the slightest effort to ameliorate suffering, you end up with COMMUNIST hunter-gatherer tribes! Is that what you want, you anti-consumerist COMMUNIST?

    Everything is fine the way things are, unless you’re a COMMUNIST.

  12. Non-Believer
    December 29, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Exactly my point, EG! That’s why so many millions starved to death under Communism, while all of the poor in capitalist America are fat, and texting in iPhones.

  13. LC
    December 29, 2011 at 1:50 am

    OK, I’m just going to assume Non-Believer is trolling, now.

  14. EG
    December 29, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Well, obviously! Because fat people are never hungry, and everybody knows that every time you receive a text, you can trade it in for a doctor’s appointment and a month’s worth of prescription medication.

    What? You don’t agree? What are you, some kind of COMMUNIST?

  15. Justamblingalong
    December 29, 2011 at 2:15 am

    Long time lurker, first time post here:

    Non-Believer, you are expressing the economic views of someone who made it through 101 and 102 but never took anything past that. Several points:

    1) Being fat has nothing to do with spending too much money on food- often, it’s the exact opposite. Cheap food is less healthy.

    2) Yes. most poor people in America today are doing better than most poor people did in Soviet Russia. In fact,poor people today have an objectively higher standard of living than RICH people did in the Middle Ages- longer lives, more entertainment, tastier food. Thing is, though, that humans don’t define our well-being along an absolute scale- we define it in relative terms. Call it irrational if you want, but most people would rather have a thousand dollars in a society of hundred-dollar-havers than two thousand dollars in a society of millionaires. We have studies to back this up!

    3) Please don’t take point 2) to mean being poor in America is *easy.* The fact that a rampaging Visigoth won’t burn down your house doesn’t mean there aren’t millions of people out there struggling to pay rent, drowning under endless student debt, or putting off medical treatment in order to eat. There are.

    4) Kristen J already covered a lot of what I wanted to say, so I’ll just add this; the free market is not, in fact, magic. In Econ 101 you learn about how great the invisible hand is, and then in Econ 103-999 you learn about all the places it breaks down (externalities, public goods, asymmetrical information, short-term vs. long-term metastability) and the policies people propose to fix them. This isn’t pinko-commie talk; this is simply *fact.*

    5) Given all of the above, there are a *ton* of places where people can advocate for better public policy without advocating jettisoning the free market. To choose one example out of many, the student loans are handled by a hybrid private-governmental industry which has hopelessly misaligned incentives; this is one reason schools cost so damn much.

    Hope that helps!

  16. librarygoose
    December 29, 2011 at 2:23 am

    Hold on now, EG. I think we’re all ignoring some important points that Non-Believer makes. I should have an iphone. Where is my free poor person iphone? Was there a line or something?

  17. EG
    December 29, 2011 at 2:28 am

    Well, see, it’s your own fault if you can’t get adequate health care now, isn’t it? You should have gone to the Poor Person iPhone Distribution Office while it was still open. Now you’re just going to have to mug an investment banker and take his.

  18. DonnaL
    December 29, 2011 at 2:36 am

    That’s why so many millions starved to death under Communism

    What are you talking about? Are you serious? Universal health care and decent housing and a meaningful safety net and so on will inevitably result in the kind of “central planning” that led Stalin to deporting and/or killing nearly two million kulaks and their families in 1930-31 in connection with collectivization, followed by reduced production, followed in the Ukraine by the mass confiscation of all the grain that was produced (mostly exported and used to buy machinery from the West), followed by the starvation death of up to five million peasants in 1932-1933? How exactly do you see the chain of causation working here? (The best portrayal I’ve read of the Ukrainian famine and the events leading up to it is in Vasily Grossman’s “Everything Flows,” at pp. 116-138 of the New York Review Books paperback edition — which I just happened to read a few days ago.)

  19. LotusBen
    December 29, 2011 at 2:45 am

    Oh hey, look–it’s Mr. Porn on a Plane guy, here with us again to defend the rapacious profiteering of crony capitalism. Cool!

  20. librarygoose
    December 29, 2011 at 2:48 am

    Now you’re just going to have to mug an investment banker and take his.

    Pfft, just like every other Tuesday. How else do I express my jealousy of their well deserved success and happiness? I mean, it’s class warfare, and a war needs ground troops.

  21. EG
    December 29, 2011 at 2:53 am

    it’s class warfare, and a war needs ground troops.

    I think we need to arm you better.

    Oh hey, look–it’s Mr. Porn on a Plane guy, here with us again to defend the rapacious profiteering of crony capitalism.

    Oh, that’s right. Heh. Well, I guess if you don’t contribute enough to the economy to be deemed worthy of first class, you have to get your kicks however you can.

  22. outofnowhere
    December 29, 2011 at 3:52 am

    Things are just fine the way they are. The market decodes how much an individual’s contribution to the economy is worth. The alternative — to have the government determine wages — is Communism.

    hahaha, sometimes I wonder exactly how easy it is to believe in a meritocracy when things are going well. Also, did anyone else picture an awesome dystopian film starring Denzel as “The Market”?

  23. aboat
    December 29, 2011 at 3:52 am

    I don’t quite get this about the US. I wondered about this on the Student Debt Story thread also. As someone living in a country which has universal health care, and no interest government loans available to cover higher education costs (which are already significantly lower in real terms than what you guys pay in the states). We aren’t all Marxists, and we weathered the GFC better than most countries. So, I think the solutions Miss S provide seem to make sense, but being generally ignorant about economic systems, I wonder if it is actually not viable in such a populous country, or whether it is just this weird attachment to capitalism that seems to be entrenched in the right wing faction of the US that is stopping it all from being reformed.

  24. Drew
    December 29, 2011 at 4:11 am

    Pfft, just like every other Tuesday. How else do I express my jealousy of their well deserved success and happiness? I mean, it’s class warfare, and a war needs ground troops.

    It’s never warfare until the subordinate group retaliates.

  25. LotusBen
    December 29, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Well, I guess if you don’t contribute enough to the economy to be deemed worthy of first class, you have to get your kicks however you can.

    What are you talking about EG? I’m sure Non-Believer is a regular job-creating John Galt who enjoys his porn in the well-earned opulence of first class airline seating. I mean, with as sharp a mind as he clearly has, how could the invisible hand of the free market not reward him untold, justly deserved riches.

    I wonder if it is actually not viable in such a populous country, or whether it is just this weird attachment to capitalism that seems to be entrenched in the right wing faction of the US that is stopping it all from being reformed.

    Just my personal opinion on the matter–there’s a few different factors. But one I want to highlight that I think is a big part of it is racism. Support for a lot of social programs is undermined because racist white people think the programs will benefit the “wrong” sort of people. A lot of the countries that historically have had the biggest welfare states, like Sweden or something, have been traditionally more racially and ethnically homogenous than the USA, so people have more solidarity with each other and a sense of “we’re all in this together.”

  26. aboat
    December 29, 2011 at 4:34 am

    Ah, ok. That definitely seems to make sense from what I have heard from right-wingers in these types of debates. And as an Australian this rings pretty true – we have no issue with being a welfare state unless it is to our Indigenous population, when it suddenly turns from ‘helping working families who are struggling’ to ‘giving handouts to welfare bludgers who should really just get a job’.

  27. Gunnar Tveiten
    December 29, 2011 at 5:14 am

    Unless you change your political system, this will only get worse. The tendency is for technology to require less, but higher-skilled workers and more capital.

    Which means the “value”-differential between a girl who can drive a bus or prepare a burger or nurse a sick person, and, say, a researcher is only going to grow. The logical conclusion is very close to winner-takes-all.

  28. matlun
    December 29, 2011 at 6:50 am

    I am not sure how much is explained by racism. The political culture in the US is very strange in many respects – this is not only down to social safety systems and universal health care. While some aspects of US politics (for example criminal justice and the absurdly large prison population) are probably tolerated by the public because of racism, how would this explain for example the US attitude to unions or any type of workers’ rights?

    The US is in many way a special case, and the US politics is very right wing from a European perspective (the Democrats would be considered far right here. The Republicans would be totally unelectable).

    Perhaps it is in large parts due to nationalistic self image of rugged individualism? Or maybe it is religion and people having faith in that everyone gets what is coming to them in some mystical sense?

    To be honest I do not understand this phenomenon. In Europe democracy may have issues with populist politics and uninformed voters going for narrow minded self interest, but in the US there is a large proportion of the population actively voting against their own self interest.

  29. thinksnake
    December 29, 2011 at 7:23 am

    And as an Australian this rings pretty true – we have no issue with being a welfare state unless it is to our Indigenous population, when it suddenly turns from ‘helping working families who are struggling’ to ‘giving handouts to welfare bludgers who should really just get a job’.

    Kindasorta. As an Australian living by-and-large on said benefits (for reasons of disability, but I’m not on the disability pension itself since I’m not that disabled according to Centrelink – keep that for another rant), there’s a lot of crap we have to go through. Simply mentioning I collect benefits leads to a lot of people deciding I’m either incompetent or a dole bludger.

    That said, my (admittedly limited) understanding of the equivalent situation in the US is that we have it a lot better off. Our pharmaceutical system for one is much more geared towards helping the people who need assistance.

  30. aboat
    December 29, 2011 at 7:48 am

    Yeah, I mentioned that I thought we had it pretty good in my first post on this thread. The situation on a few fronts in the U.S looks downright scary. In that post I was just saying that I can understand LotusBen’s answering my ‘how did it get to this and why is it not changing?’ question with the idea that racism plays a big part in the public debate on welfare entitlements. Which I could accept as a legit theory, because honestly, the ‘oh sure bad things happened in the past but now Indigenous Australians (or a less respectful term) get all these special extra benefits (which must give them SO much extra money. I mean, living off benefits is a frikken LARK) and hey, isn’t that actually racist toward WHITE people?’ attitude is just so ever present in Australian culture.

    But I will stop hijacking your thread now guys and let you get back to your brainstorming : )

  31. Angie unduplicated
    December 29, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Nonbeliever ignores one salient point: as long as employers and HR reps are allowed to organize, while employees are fired for organizing, it is not a free market. When sellers of labor are discouraged from collaborating to make the sale of their commodity, work, more profitable, then employers are practicing tyranny and not capitalism.
    These guys want a Third World economy where they have gated communities and we have desperation and cardboard shacks at the dump. Their attitude is that expansion into developing nations will profit them while we provide cheap labor at lower transport costs.

  32. Matt
    December 29, 2011 at 9:26 am

    That our system was truly capitalist would imply that companies provided accurate and complete information about their products so that consumers could make the best decision about which product has the most value for them.
    I am pretty sure lying your ass off and trying to sell useless products was not what classical capitalism was supposed to be about.
    Now if you will excuse me I am off to bury negative studies about the effects of my expensive products on your health. I promise we are not lying about using lead paint on our toys either.

  33. DouglasG
    December 29, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Mr Matt – While you’re burying, don’t forget to burn all the memos about how much less it will cost to settle lawsuits than to make products safe(r).

  34. Matt
    December 29, 2011 at 10:18 am

    DouglasG 12.29.2011 at 10:06 am

    Mr Matt – While you’re burying, don’t forget to burn all the memos about how much less it will cost to settle lawsuits than to make products safe(r).

    We would have to retool our whole production process to make it safer, I mean, yeah some kids died but, what about our bottom line?

  35. Kristen J.
    December 29, 2011 at 10:29 am

    All of which points to my theory that corps should have a fiduciary obligation to their consumers, their employees, and their communities as well as their shareholders.

    But then I read too much Frankel, so what the hell.

  36. Vigée
    December 29, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    But one I want to highlight that I think is a big part of it is racism. Support for a lot of social programs is undermined because racist white people think the programs will benefit the “wrong” sort of people. A lot of the countries that historically have had the biggest welfare states, like Sweden or something, have been traditionally more racially and ethnically homogenous than the USA, so people have more solidarity with each other and a sense of “we’re all in this together.”

    Of course it’s not the whole story, but I think there’s a lot to this as well. My husband is from Norway, and from what he’s told me, as the immigrant population there has grown so has a certain right-wing militancy about blocking certain people from the socialized aspect of their democracy. I’m not criticizing Norway on this front, since they still pretty much kick our asses up and down the block, but it does seem evident that racism has a part to play in the establishing and maintenance of these sentiments.

  37. LC
    December 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Hell, if I remember my Tocqueville, he pointed out in Democracy in America that some of the social institutions established worked because of the relative homogeneity of the colonists. (That they accomplished this by excluding those who weren’t homogeneous doesn’t get brought up.)

    We do have a tendency to view these things in terms of “like us” vs “not like us”.

  38. Non-Believer
    December 29, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Fine, let’s have the government seize all bank accounts and private property, and split it up 300 million ways according to meritocratic principles. Unless someone here has a better idea of how to make things more equal.

    I never said I like porn or think it should be legal. I don’t. I just think that as long as it is legal, people who watch it (mostly liberals) shouldn’t have their pleasure interrupted by freedom-hating busy-bodies (again, mostly liberals).

    Yeah, poor people are fat because food is cheap. That’s the miracle of capitalism. If they don’t what to get fat, they could eat smaller portions and eat even less. Simple as that. Unless you’re saying that poor people are also stupid, and too dumb to understand this.

    Yeah, lots of poor people have iPhones. Comes out to about $1,500 a year and the cost is declining. That’s not so much to spring. Anyway, the have access to computers and the internet, which are pretty much free these days. We’re all using computers to post here, rather than sending letters to Jill and asking her to type them up, right? I don’t think we’re all part of the 1% here.

  39. librarygoose
    December 29, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Yeah, poor people are fat because food is cheap. That’s the miracle of capitalism. If they don’t what to get fat, they could eat smaller portions and eat even less. Simple as that. Unless you’re saying that poor people are also stupid, and too dumb to understand this.

    What? Are you serious? Yes, let the fat poor people eat less. Obviously that’s their issue, not the fact that foods that aren’t overly processed and filled with sugar and salt are, in fact, not that fucking cheap. Jesus.

  40. LotusBen
    December 29, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Non-Believer, the correct term for people here is “libs,” not “liberals.” Get it right.

  41. EG
    December 30, 2011 at 12:56 am

    I cannot even engage with Non-Believer any longer, because nobody could possibly really be this stupid. “Either you’re part of the top 1% or you’re poor! There are no other options!” “Computers and the internet are pretty much free!” “Poor people eat too much!” “COMMUNIST!”

    Even Fox News has somewhat more involved arguments than that. So either he’s really, really, really stupid, and that thought just makes me sad, or he’s just being a jackass, in which case, I am too old and tired right now.

  42. LotusBen
    December 30, 2011 at 1:12 am

    False dichotomy EG. I’d wager he’s both stupid and a jackass.

  43. EG
    December 30, 2011 at 1:17 am

    You’re absolutely right. As my mother the social worker likes to say, “it’s a both/and situation.”

  44. LotusBen
    December 30, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Your mother sounds like a wise woman. I’d say you could even call this an example of intersectionality. At the intersection of jackass and stupid, there you have Non-Believer.

  45. December 30, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Seriously, don’t feed the trolls. Non-Believer’s first comment was two paragraphs of derailing, ridiculous, absolutist comments. Either you accept things as they are, or the government controls wages. If you oppose wealth disparity, you want to return to a hunter-gatherer economy.
    Don’t even listen to that garbage. I mean, that kind of logical fallacy is textbook troll.

  46. Non-Believer
    December 30, 2011 at 10:35 am

    No, textbook troll is complaining about the economy, and suggesting that the only way out is increased federal spending accompanied by massive tax hikes.

    Either lay out your “nuanced” economic plan or stop trolling. Simpson-Bowles plan, or Ryan’s, are fine with me. Why did Obama reject them?

  47. Rob in CT
    December 30, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Of course Ryan’s is ok with you. Randian fantasy seems right up your alley.

    SB couldn’t even manage to produce a report. The best they could do was have the co-chairs present their plan. That was something like 4-to-1 cuts-to-tax-increases, which it turns out was essentially what Obama was offering Boehner during the debt ceiling debacle. Yet, for some reason, the Teas wouldn’t take it. Why?

    By the way, if you’re going to lob “commie” around, I think it’s only fair everyone else gets to call you a fascist. If you don’t like it, you can make less inflammatory arguments.

  48. EG
    December 30, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    By the way, if you’re going to lob “commie” around, I think it’s only fair everyone else gets to call you a fascist.

    Ooooh! I haven’t done that in years! There’s something sort of retro-chic about Non-Believer’s red-baiting, though, so I’m up for it.

  49. Tom Foolery
    December 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I came to this thread kind of amped to talk about how capitalism can help solve these problems by leaving behind corporatism in favor of an actual free market, but it seems Non Believer has taken a big dump in that pool. Oh well.

    Hell, if I remember my Tocqueville, he pointed out in Democracy in America that some of the social institutions established worked because of the relative homogeneity of the colonists.

    De Tocqueville also pointed out that “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury,” which is more or less what we have now, with a side of national security hysteria.

  50. Non-Believer
    December 31, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I am so glad De Tocqueville anticipated and solved America’s difficult economic problems. We should turn to Europe to solve all of our ills. Although the Occupy Wall Street crowd has some great ideas — squatting in a park might well cure cancer, as well as pulling us out of a recession.

  51. LotusBen
    December 31, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Well at least Non-Believer is not Eurocentric!

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