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Jon Talton

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

Category: Income/living standards
July 1, 2014 at 10:42 AM

Forty years of progress — or not

To the ongoing argument/search to understand how American opportunity has changed in recent decades, I recommend a new report from the groups Measure of America and Opportunity Nation. They take 16 metrics from 1970 to 2010 to give a deeper understanding of where the nation has made gains or faced headwinds. The Historical Report Opportunity Score…


Comments | More in Income/living standards, Pacific Northwest economy

May 28, 2014 at 11:01 AM

McDonald’s and ‘real careers’

Last week, with protesters chanting outside McDonald’s annual meeting, Chief Executive Don Thompson told attendees, according to news reports, that “the company has a heritage of providing job opportunities that lead to ‘real careers.’ ” While this brought sneers from many critics, I think he’s probably right…but mostly about the McDonald’s circa 1979. Ray Kroc’s…


Comments | Topics: Fast food protests, McDonald's

December 9, 2013 at 10:16 AM

Household wealth is up, with a big asterisk

The graph above is a rough estimate of household wealth, and the latest data just released show that overall Americans continue to dig out of the losses caused by the Great Recession. One caveat: Adjusted for inflation, net worth is about 1.4 percent below its peak. The third-quarter increase was 2.6 percent compared with the same…


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September 17, 2013 at 11:13 AM

For most Americans, no recovery in ’12

The Census Bureau reported today that median household income was essentially stagnant last year,  at $51,017. Adjusted for inflation, that leaves income 8.3 percent lower than where it stood in 2007 before the recession. The poverty rate was 15 percent, with 46.5 million of our fellow citizens living at or below the official poverty line. That’s 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007 and close to a post-War on Poverty record. Of this, 43 percent were in “deep poverty,” with half below the poverty line. In 2000, the rate of poverty was 11.3 percent. In the late 1950s, before LBJ’s War on Poverty began, the rate was above 22 percent.

The Gini ratio, which measures income inequality was basically unchanged at 0.477. Still, it is at a record high. In the late 1960s, it stood around 0.39. As was reported recently, the top 1 percent made up all their losses from the downturn and have accumulated a record share of national income.

Breaking down the numbers reveals a grim picture of not just stagnation, but in many cases a retrograde move. The typical American family makes less than it did in 1989.


Comments | More in Income/living standards, Inequality, Poverty | Topics: Income, inequality, poverty

July 23, 2013 at 11:26 AM

Not like yesterday: America 1940

I’ve tried to stop using the term “Great Recession” in favor of “the Panic of 2008.” One reason is that it resembles the recurring financial panics of the 19th century, but another is that it trivializes the devastation of the Great Depression (and we might face worse, too, so let’s not pre-use “great”). And we were a very different country. The Panic wasn’t as bad as the Depression partly because of policy, some wise (the Federal Reserve avoiding deflation) and questionable (the bailout of the big banks, no questions asked; a too-small stimulus). But in addition, even though many still aren’t feeling a recovery, average Americans were much better off than those who contended with the Depression.

The Census Bureau offers data and charts comparing America in 1940 and 2010. The New Deal had provided jobs and eased suffering for millions, and the economy improved substantially as the 1930s progressed (the exception, a recession in 1937 when FDR backed off on the stimulus). But it wasn’t until World War II that we completely recovered. So in 1940, with Pearl Harbor a year away, the median income for men was about $14,890 in 2010 purchasing power; for women, it was $9,220. By 2010, median income was $33,276 for men and $24,157 for women.

Much more of the population lived on farms or rural villages: Nearly 79 percent used an outside toilet and less than 18 percent had running water. Even with the strides of rural electrification from such projects as the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bonneville Power Administration, 31 percent of rural residents had electric lights. In 2010, more than 99 percent of American households had complete plumbing.


Comments | More in Income/living standards | Topics: 1940 Census, Economic history, Great Depression

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