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Lower 50% Have Largely Stagnated in Recent Decades



(p. B1) Even with all the setbacks from recessions, burst bubbles and vanishing industries, the United States has still pumped out breathtaking riches over the last three and half decades.

The real economy more than doubled in size; the government now uses a substantial share of that bounty to hand over as much as $5 trillion to help working families, older people, disabled and unemployed people pay for a home, visit a doctor and put their children through school.

Yet for half of all Americans, their share of the total economic pie has shrunk significantly, new research has found.

This group -- the approximately 117 million adults stuck on the lower half of the income ladder -- "has been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s," the team of economists found. "Even after taxes and transfers, there has been close to zero growth for working-age adults in the bottom 50 percent."


. . .


(p. B3) By 2014, the average income of half of American adults had barely budged, remaining around $16,000, while members of the top 1 percent brought home, on average, $1,304,800 or 81 times as much.

That ratio, the authors point out, "is similar to the gap between the average income in the United States and the average income in the world's poorest countries, the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Burundi."

The growth of incomes has probably increased a bit since 2014, the latest year for which full data exists, said Mr. Zucman, who, like Mr. Saez, also teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. But it is "not enough to make any significant difference to our long-run finding, and in particular, to affect the long-run stagnation of bottom-50-percent incomes."


. . .


Mr. Piketty, Mr. Saez and Mr. Zucman concluded that the main driver of wealth in recent years has been investment income at the top. That is a switch from the 1980s and 1990s, when gains in income were primarily generated by working.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. ""A Bigger Pie, but Uneven Slices; Research Shows Slim Gains for the Bottom 50 Percent." The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 7, 2016): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 6, 2016, and has the title "A Bigger Economic Pie, but a Smaller Slice for Half of the U.S." The print article shares the title "A Bigger Pie, but Uneven Slices" with a commentary by Eduardo Porter. The Cohen article has the unique subtitle "Research Shows Slim Gains for the Bottom 50 Percent.")


The July 7, 2017 draft of Piketty, Saez and Zucman's working paper, mentioned above, is:

Piketty, Thomas, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman. "Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States." Working Paper, July 6, 2017.






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