Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.
December 12, 2013 at 10:22 AM
King and Snohomish counties are among the higher ranks of household income for 2012, according to new data from the Census Bureau. Even so, they’re below the richest counties, which are clustered around the other Washington. This map shows the stark differences nationwide with lower income prevailing.
December 9, 2013 at 10:16 AM
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 quarter in 2012, bringing household wealth to $77.3 trillion. So much for the austerian hysteria that “we’re broke!”
The data also require a big asterisk: This is the wealth of everybody, Bill Gates, the minimum-wage person behind the counter at McDonald’s. Wealthier Americans have benefited from a huge rally on the stock market, along with other trading gains. These have been especially beneficial for those who make their living from investments.
Those who depend on wages are still struggling, with the average household making less than it did in 1989.
Another Monday metric: November retail hiring of 471,000 is down 4.7 percent from last year, according to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Even so, it is the second-highest gain for the industry on record (the best showing was 2012). This tells us as much about the changing composition of job opportunities — three job seekers for every opening — as it does about what is happening in retail.
And Don’t Miss: By George, Britain’s austerity experiment didn’t work | The New Yorker
Today’s Econ Haiku:
A jet at our heads
We’ll all shell out the freebies
So much for state rights
September 17, 2013 at 11:13 AM
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.
July 23, 2013 at 11:26 AM
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.
May 2, 2013 at 10:15 AM
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.
April 2, 2013 at 10:29 AM
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.
March 25, 2013 at 11:25 AM
The latest Economic Report to the President offers some interesting stuff in the appendix. The most important news — and hat tip to the Middle Class Political Economist blog by Professor Kenneth Thomas for being the first to point it out — is that wages fell 0.2 percent last year adjusted for inflation. Not only that, but 2012 became a dismal anniversary: The 40th straight year that real wages fell compared with their 1972 peak.
Thomas was interested that nobody in the media seemed to pick up on this, and shame on us. For all the talk about the plight of the middle class in the presidential campaign, I don’t see any policies advancing through the Congress to address the situation.
Forty years is a long time and the lowest point of weekly earnings was 1992, when they were 22 percent below the 1972 peak. Last year, they were about 14 percent below peak. During the same time, productivity has doubled. So do the math, as they say, and tell me we don’t have a problem.
And Don’t Miss: Will Cyprus be contained? | Naked Capitalism
Today’s Econ Haiku:
Market up, Cyprus
Oracle on an island
Market down, Cyprus
March 22, 2013 at 10:31 AM
The stock market is up and housing sales are recovering. Unemployment remains stubbornly high and mandatory government cutbacks will be kicking in with the sequestration. Job openings increased slightly in January, but there are 3.3 job seekers for every position. The Seattle area is booming; the rest of Washington, not so much. Today’s poll asks how you are faring personally compared with six months ago:
Read on for the best links of the week and the haiku:
September 28, 2012 at 10:20 AM
So if I understand this right, Microsoft wants to offer money to train U.S. workers in exchange for more H-1B visas to bring in more foreign workers. Microsoft says the shortage of skilled technical workers is at a crisis level, yet I often hear from Americans who say they have the skills but have been passed over for a foreign worker who is cheaper. And this doesn’t even account for all the jobs that have been sent offshore.
The H-1B program has long been controversial, but it didn’t matter as much in the 1990s when jobs were abundant. In addition, we should want America to be a magnet for the most talented workers in the world. Seattle is a shining example of how a metro area open to the world benefits. But this is a tougher sell with 12.8 million Americans officially unemployed, and millions more underemployed. It’s a tougher sell as wage stagnation starts to bite even formerly elite sectors.
You tell me, oh residents of Technostan, and I hope you’ll flesh out the argument in the comments section of this blog (beyond “Talton your an idiot” cq):
Read on for the best links of the week and the haiku:
September 26, 2012 at 1:21 PM
The well-off are doing very well in Washington, according to a new study from the state Office of Financial Management, which studied the distribution of income, wealth and taxes across Washington households from 2005 to 2009. In 2009, 54.8 percent of total income went to the top 20 percent of households, while 1.6 percent went to the bottom 20 percent. In 2005, the top 20 received 57.4 percent of total Washington income, while the bottom 20 got 1.5 percent of income.
More than half the total wealth in the state was held by the top 5 percent, in a study that noted the wealth estimates for the richest Washingtonians were probably understated. Those in the bottom 10 percent had a negative net worth.
“Washington has a top-heavy income and wealth distribution,” the study concluded. On the other hand, economic mobility was not dead. Slicing the households into tens, the researchers found that more households moved to a higher slice than a lower one, and lower groups were more likely to move up. Incomes and wealth were reduced for all groups by the Great Recession, with the higher-end taking a bigger hit. Those in the middle held their own. Also, every group lost purchasing power from 2005 to 2009.