As Usual, the Unrich in America Continue to Tread Water

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


I commented briefly yesterday on the CBO’s latest report about the distribution of household income, but I didn’t get a chance to show you the main event: Income growth since the Reagan era. Here it is:

The nice thing about the CBO income estimates is that they’re pretty comprehensive. This one, for example, shows market income, which consists of labor income (including cash wages, health insurance, and the employer’s share of Social Security, Medicare, and federal unemployment insurance payroll taxes), business income, capital income (including capital gains), and retirement income. Other CBO income measures include government transfers, so you can get a good sense of how incomes are affected by social welfare programs.

As you can see, the market incomes of the rich bounce up and down a fair amount because they rely on volatile income sources like stocks and other investments. 2013 was not a good year for them—though we already know that they made up some of this ground in 2014 and 2015.

But for the unrich—which is, roughly speaking, everyone making less than $100,000 per year—nothing ever changes. During a period when real GDP per capita increased 77 percent, the income of the unrich has increased only 18 percent. That’s about half a percent per year, and all of it came from a single decade: 1993-2003. The rest of the time there’s been literally zero growth in the income of the unrich.

Economic anxiety may not be the real motivation for angry voters in this election, but it sure ought to be.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate