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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

September 10, 2009 at 9:55 AM

Americans lost ground over past decade — the first such decline in modern history

Top of the News: The great recession was bad, but the expansion that preceded it was little better for most Americans. That’s the lesson of the new Census report on income, health insurance and poverty in the United States.

Adjusted for inflation, median household income declined to $50,303 last year vs. $52,163 in 2007. But here’s the kicker: In 1998, the typical household’s income was $51,295. This is the first time in modern American history that such a decline over 10 years has been suffered.

Americans are losing ground for a variety of reasons. Cheap competition from abroad has decimated many well-paying manufacturing jobs. Most of those jobs haven’t been replaced, as America focused more on bundling financial swindles than seeding advanced industries. Unions have lost more ground — a trend that affects all working people — as the balance between employees’ bargaining power and Wal-Mart-style operations has shifting sharply in favor of the latter. Income inequality continues to rise sharply — the richest Americans did very well over the decade. And American meritocracy — the economic and social mobility seen from the 1940s onward — has frozen up.

Needless to say, the data have serious implications for the ability of most people to recover soon — especially when personal debt loads are added in (which many people took on to maintain their old lifestyles). Other findings: The poverty rate rose to 13.2 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 2007. A total of 46.3 million were without health insurance in 2008, compared with 45.7 million the previous year. You can download the report here.

The Back Story: Another gift from the “recovery” is rising oil prices. The International Energy Agency says it expects a rise in global demand next year, especially in China, the rest of Asia and the U.S. Whether the increase in prices is enough to snap the economy back into recession will be something to watch.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Steve Jobs avoided

Nature’s killer ap. He had

Good health insurance

Comments | More in Income/living standards

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