Tag Archives: income inequality

Rising Inequality: Most American Households Contain Nothing at All

From The New Yorker

No, that wasn’t Elizabeth Warren, or the editor of the Nation, or Paul Krugman (or even me) banging on about how the rich are getting richer and most everybody else is struggling to keep up. It was Janet Yellen, the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, addressing a conference in Boston on Friday morning. It’s not unheard of for a Fed chief to discuss rising inequality: Ben Bernanke addressed it in a 2007 speech. But Yellen’s speech is surely the first time a Fed chief has pointed out that rising inequality threatens America’s sense of itself.

Here is what she said.

Since the top five per cent of households own almost two-thirds of the wealth, it stands to reason that most American households don’t own very much at all. But the figures that Yellen presented are still shocking. In 1989, the bottom half of the distribution owned just three per cent of all wealth. By 2013, that figure had fallen to one per cent. No, that’s not a typo: half the country owns one per cent of its wealth.

These numbers confirm an old but rarely stated truth. Many, if not most, individual American households possess next to nothing. In 2013, the average net worth of the sixty-two million households in the bottom half of the distribution was eleven thousand dollars. (To get net worth, you add up the value of all the assets a family owns and subtract its debts, including mortgage debts.)

And it’s not just that most households don’t have much wealth. According to this measure, anyway, they have been getting poorer—a point that is often vigorously contested. In 1989, the average net worth of families in the bottom fifty per cent was twenty-two thousand dollars. Twenty-four years later, the average net worth had fallen by half. (These figures are adjusted for inflation.) At the top of the distribution, of course, history has proceeded along very different lines. In 1989, the average net worth of families in the top five per cent was $3.6 million. By 2013, that figure had risen to $6.8 million.

How Calgary’s Oil Boom is Threatening to Destroy It’s Middle Class

From the Globe and Mail

When Necole Hines moved to Calgary from Toronto nine years ago, she was offered teller positions at four different banks. When she got laid off from a recent job at a stock photography company, she easily found another in sales and administration at a magazine.

Ms. Hines – who spent a year in university but has no degree – has always made lower-end but respectable wages, most recently around $50,000 a year.

But that salary doesn’t go very far in what has become one of Canada’s most expensive cities, where an oil boom has created reams of new money and driven up the cost of everything from housing to groceries.

The signs of wealth are everywhere – from the frenzy to build the new tallest skyscrapers, skyrocketing sales at the four-year-old Bentley dealership, and plans for high-end malls and neighbourhoods at every turn.

In the country’s energy capital, where business people, lawyers, engineers and geologists earn some of the highest salaries in Canada, households making less than a six-figure income – who many would classify as middle class – face a tough slog.

Calgary families earning up to $68,175 still qualify for a three-bedroom social housing unit, proof that even amid Calgary’s wealth, middle-class households are being increasingly squeezed. The tight labour market created by the expansion of the energy industry has not eliminated the issue of income inequality. Far from it – the rise in the cost of living is adding to the pressure.

Ms. Hines will attest that if you’re not working for an oil and gas company, or one of the other corporate towers that make up the landscape of the downtown, it’s an expensive place to be.

“If you don’t get into that right industry, you’re still having to pay for the same things as somebody else making that amount of money,” Ms. Hines said.

She found she needed a car because public transit isn’t reliable, and food basics such as produce and cereal are more expensive. (The Consumer Price Index was higher in Calgary in 2012 than any other city in Canada, except for Edmonton.) In a city where home ownership is prized, the average single-family home costs more than $516,000, so the single mother of three rents the main floor of a house. Although she is the main breadwinner for her family, Ms. Hines has never felt as if she’s been able to get ahead. “In this city, it’s not that easy.”

Alberta’s bountiful oil and gas resources have given many people steady work, and have made others rich. Calgary is home to more than one in 10 of Canada’s wealthiest tax filers, those with an annual income of at least $201,400. Between 1989 and 2010, its share of the national total more than doubled, to 11 per cent from 5 per cent.

But the influx of money and 20,000 newcomers to the city each year – whether it’s for views of the Rocky Mountains or the low unemployment rate – means the demand for every service, from housing to hairdressers, has gone up.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in Calgary,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in an interview. “There are a lot of people who are vulnerable. There are a lot of people who are living on the margins.”

While Calgary has become home to one of the country’s highest family median annual incomes – now at $93,410 – increasing wealth has not affected everyone equally. In an analysis of Statistics Canada income-tax data, the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute says Calgary is Canada’s most unequal city, as the bottom 90 per cent of income earners saw an average increase in pay (adjusted for inflation) of only $2,000 between 1982 and 2010.

Alberta has the highest average hourly wages in the country, but certain sectors routinely benefit more than others. For instance, while people in business, finance or sales saw large average increases in hourly rates over the past 12 months, wages in art, culture and recreation occupations dropped.

Poverty and Income in America

The four lost decades

To me, what is really, really alarming is this: a typical American male who works full time and still has a job is earning almost exactly the same now as his counterpart was back in 1972, when Richard Nixon was in the White House, O. J. Simpson rushed a thousand yards for the Buffalo Bills, and Don McLean topped the charts with “American Pie.”

The figures, which appear in Table A-5 at the back of the Census Bureau’s report (pdf), are these. Median earnings for full-time, year-round male workers: 2010—$47,715; 1972—$47,550. That’s not a typo. In thirty-eight years, the annual earnings of the typical male worker, adjusted to 2010 dollars, have risen by $165, or $3.17 a week.