Yesterday the Census Bureau released its latest income data, confirming what millions of Americans already know: The recession may be over, but the recovery has yet to trickle down. Specifically, the Census reported that median household incomes didn't budge between 2011 and 2012.
Digging deeper into the new data reveals more evidence of the widening income gap between the rich and the rest.
The only bright side of stalled incomes is that they are no longer experiencing the steep decline that started in 2007 before the recession hit. But that's hardly cause for celebration: At $51,017, the real median household income in 2012 is even less than it was at the end of the '80s, and it's down 9 percent from its high in 1999.
This loss of real income hasn't affected all Americans equally. For the top 20 percent of earners, average incomes grew 70 percent since 1967, and they grew 88 percent for the top 5 percent. Meanwhile, middle-income households have seen their earnings grow just 20 percent in the past four decades.
This translates into a greater share of total income going to top earners. In 2012, the top 20 percent took in more than half of all income in the United States, according to the Census.
To put that into sharper focus, I've charted how each percentile's share of total income has changed since the late '60s. After experiencing significant growth in the mid-1970s, the bottom 20 percent of earners have seen their share steadily drop. Compare that with the top 5 and 20 percent, which have seen their piece of the pie expand in the past two decades while all other Americans' shrunk.
This trend is also seen in the latest income data complied by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, which shows that the top 10 percent of earners now hold their largest share of total income since the eve of the Depression.
The new Census data on the bleak state of the American Dream came one day after Forbes released its latest list of 400 wealthiest Americans. Together, they are worth more than $2 trillion. The past year has been very good to them:
The average net worth of list members is a staggering $5 billion, $800 million more than a year ago and also a record. The minimum net worth needed to make the 400 list was $1.3 billion. The last time it was that high was in 2007 and 2008, before property and stock market values began sliding. Because the bar is so high, 61 American billionaires didn't make the cut.
As Piketty and Saez report, 95 percent of all income growth between 2009 and 2012 went to the 1 percent.
Recent news reports exposed how the National Security Agency has been collecting millions of Americans' phone data and online communications. Here's how we got from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to the massive domestic spying operations of today:
September 11: Nearly 3,000 people are killed when terrorists fly planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and crash another in Pennsylvania. Soon afterward, the NSA begins a "special collection program" to track the communications of Al Qaeda leaders and suspected terrorists.
George W. Bush speaks at the NSA in 2002. NSA
October: Six weeks after 9/11, President Bush signs the USA Patriot Act, which lowers protections against government collection of Americans' communications and personal records.
TIA logo WikiMedia Commons
February: The New York Timesreveals that the Pentagon is "developing technologies to give federal officials instant access to vast new surveillance and information analysis systems" under a new agency called the Information Awareness Office, which later gave way to the Total Information Awareness program.
March: White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visit Attorney General John Ashcroft in the hospital seeking to persuade him to reauthorize the NSA's domestic warrantless wiretapping program. The program will be revealed to the public a year and a half later by the New York Times.
May: USA Today reports the NSA has been tracking millions of Americans' phone calls with the help of major telecom companies. A few weeks later a former AT&T technician reveals that the company let the NSA tap into its fiber-optic lines in 2002, enabling it to monitor a majority of internet and phone traffic in the United States.
September: Microsoft becomes the first major internet firm to cooperate with the NSA's PRISM program, giving the NSA the ability to collect data on search history, email, file transfers and live chats. Over the next few years, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and other companies become part of the program, which won't be revealed to the public until 2013.
July: Bush signs the FISA Amendments Act, which retroactively codifies the warrantless wiretapping program and compels telecoms and internet firms to give the government access to private communications if one party is "reasonably believed" to be outside the United States. It also gives telecoms retroactive immunity for handing over customers' private data without a warrant.
June: A federal judge upholds immunity for telecoms that handed over private information. The same day, Facebook starts participating in the NSA's PRISM program.
March 10: A federal judge rules that the NSA warrantless wiretapping program started during the Bush administration is illegal. The ruling, based on a 2006 lawsuit, will be overturned on a technicality in 2012.
April 15: Federal authorities charge Thomas Drake, an NSA employee who passed information about the agency's activities to reporters, under the Espionage Act. He accepts a plea deal on a lesser charge in 2011.
January: The NSA begins construction of a massive, 1 million square foot, $2 billion data center in Utah. "Just as we defend our lands, America also needs to also defend our cyberspace," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) says at the groundbreaking ceremony. It is scheduled to be completed in September 2013.
May: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee has access to classified materials, warns: "When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry."
April-May 2012: As part of a leak investigation, the Department of Justice secretly obtained two months worth of phone records from multiple offices and individual reporters at the Associated Press. It's top executive calls the DOJ's actions a "massive and unprecedented intrusion into the newsgathering process."
June: The inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says it "would itself violate the privacy of US persons" to reveal how many people the NSA had tracked inside the country.
July: In a letter to Wyden, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) acknowledges that some NSA activities have "circumvented the spirit of the law" and that on one occasion a FISA judge found that some of NSA's activities violated the Fourth Amendment.
December: Obama signs a five-year extension of the FISA Act. Amendments to provide more oversight of mass surveillance are defeated in the Senate.
PRISM documents NSA/The Guardian
March: Wyden asks DNI chief James Clapper in a congressional hearing if the NSA collects information on millions of Americans.
June: "Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program's about," Obama says at a speech in Silicon Valley. "But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism." He adds, ""You can't have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience."
August 15: Based on more Snowden documents, the Postreports that the NSA had "broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year" since 2008. Sens. Wyden and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) say the reported violations represent "just the tip of a larger iceberg."
September 5: The New York Times,Guardian, and ProPublica report that the NSA has engineered ways to foil virtually all encryption protecting the average person's "everyday communications in the Internet age."
September 9: Der Spiegel reports that the NSA has the capability to bypass security features of iPhones, Android devices, and BlackBerrys, allowing it to access contacts, location data, photos and perhaps credit card numbers and passwords.
November 14: The New York Times reports that the CIA is covertly collecting bulk records of international financial transactions under the same laws that allow for the NSA's bulk data collection, suggesting that the full scope of the US government's bulk data collection efforts are unkown.
The Gray Lady has her standards, at least. For as long as anyone has kept track, the New York Times has enforced a strict policy of avoiding language it deems offensive while jumping through hoops to explain why. While cursing is permitted in excerpted works of fiction, in the paper's news sections, f-bombs, s-words, racial slurs, and off-color terms such as "screw," are strictly non grata. (The one exception: The 1998 publication of the NSFW Starr Report.)
No one—even Joe Biden—is exempt. In the hands of the Times copy desk, "cocksuckers" becomes "Offensive Adjective Inappropriate for Family Newspaper"; "fuck you money" is "forget you money"; and "slutbag" is euphemized as just one of "several vulgar and sexist terms" uttered by New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner's spokeswoman. If—to borrow a trope that really ought to be banned—the Eskimos have 100 words for snow, the New York Times has at least 100 ways to say "fuck." None of them use the word "fuck."
Can you read between the lines to figure out which words the Times copy desk considered unfit to print in the quotes below? Give it your best fucking shot:
On the former South African president and anti-apartheid leader's 95th birthday, let's revisit some of the songs that helped put—and keep—Mandela in the minds of millions.
1. The Special AKA: "Nelson Mandela"
This super-popular and catchy protest song was released in 1984, when Mandela was nearly 20 years into his life sentence. Here it's performed with a little backup from Elvis Costello and the English Beat's Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling.
2. Hugh Masekela, "Mandela (Bring Him Back Home)"
Masekela's wish to see the imprisoned Mandela "walking down the street" was all the more poignant considering that the South African trumpeter had been living in exile in the United States since the early '60s.
3. Brenda Fassie, "Black President"
Fassie, a South African pop sensation who died in 2004, sang this tribute in 1990, four years before Mandela was elected South Africa's first black (and democratically elected) president.
4. Johnny Clegg & Savuka, "Asimbonanga"
Mandela's absence was also lamented in the South African singer's 1986 hit, whose title and chorus means "we have not seen him" in Zulu.
5. Salif Keita, "Mandela"
"You shed tears for others," sings the Malian star in this 1995 tribute.
6. Vusi Mahlasela, "When You Come Back"
Before it was used to promote the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Mahlasela's 1994 song alluded both to Mandela and Vuyisile Mini, an African National Congress activist and songwriter who was executed in 1964.
7. Miriam Makeba, "Ndodemnyama (Beware, Verwoerd)"
This 1950s song written by Mini doesn't mention Mandela, but it warns Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, of the struggle to come.
8. Artists United Against Apartheid, "Sun City"
Mandela gets a quick visual shout-out in this '80s-tastic video. (And see if you can spot Run D.M.C., Lou Reed, and Keith Richards among the many musical celebrities crammed into this single penned by Little Steven Van Zandt.)
9. Dishonorable mention: Nickelback, "If Everyone Cared"
There have been some crummy songs about Mandela, too. This one has nothing to say about Mandela (or anything for that matter), but it does shamelessly include him in its video.