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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
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.


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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.


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

May 2, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Rent burden rises for working households

Falling incomes and higher rental housing costs put increasing pressure on working families from 2008 to 2011, according to a new report from the Center for Housing Policy. Using Census Bureau American Community Survey data, the report found that nationally rental costs rose 5.9 percent while incomes declined by 3.2 percent.  Some 26.4 percent of working renters spent more than half of their household income on housing costs. Costs for owners in this cohort dropped 3.2 percent while incomes fell 4.2 percent. They paid 20.9 percent, basically unchanged from 2008.

The advocacy group defines working households as those with incomes less than 120 percent of the median for its area, and whose members worked at least 20 hours per week on average. Metro areas with the highest share of households facing a “severe housing burden” were Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and San Diego.

Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue’s rate of working households spending more than half of their incomes on housing was below the average of the 50 largest metros, at 23 percent in 2011. That’s 134,428 households and up from 22 percent in 2008. The data don’t include households where the working-age people are unemployed. In Portland, the number jumped to 24.3 percent from 20.9 percent.


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April 2, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Injustice on the waterfront

Short-haul truckers at Terminal 30 are expected to use port-a-potties, right, instead of a dockside restroom. Officials say it’s for safety reasons. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Short-haul truckers at Terminal 30 are expected to use port-a-potties, right, instead of a dockside restroom. Officials say it’s for safety reasons. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Officials at the Port of Seattle continue to show a strange tone-deafness about the working conditions of short-haul truckers. As the Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom reports, these drivers are barred from using the restrooms at the Terminal 30 office building. Instead, they must use two portable toilets near the terminal exit. The Port, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19 and terminal operator SSA Marine maintain that it’s a safety issue. The truckers can’t be stopping and walking to the regular restrooms. They might be run over. But they’re already being run over by this nightmare of an American Dream. Two porta potties to serve dozens of drivers, without even a place to wash their hands? That these drivers are mostly African immigrants adds an unfortunate racial dimension to a dispute in this supposedly liberal city.

The controversy is not new. It was one of the issues, along with pay, safety, working conditions and liability that prompted a walkout by 400 of these drayage truckers last year. In both cases, Port officials say, essentially, “not our problem.” If they speak at all. Considering that the protest happened during sensitive negotiations with the Grand Alliance container lines — which ended up moving from Seattle to the Port of Tacoma, ultimately taking about 20 percent of the container business — I’d suggest it is the Port’s problem just from a business standpoint. The walkout was not an inevitable outcome because of those mean old Teamsters, who want to organize the drayage drivers. It was a result of the Port’s inert response to a long-standing problem, always with an excuse that the drivers are “independent contractors” (only technically), or it has no control over the trucking companies and terminal operators.

How’d that work out for you? In fact, for a port with little dockside rail service, these drivers hauling containers to rail terminals are actually a highly important component of the Port’s competitiveness. The response: Two plastic outhouses. There’s not enough resources to invest in a real restroom facility near the gate? Shameful. And stupid. You can’t blame Chris Hansen and the proposed Sodo arena for this one.


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