Joined: Sep 2009
Record Gap between Rich and Poor in U.S.
And somehow S&L has no idea why this might be bad for the U.S.
Income Gap Widens: Census Finds Record Gap Between Rich And Poor
WASHINGTON — The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record as young adults and children in particular struggled to stay afloat in the recession.
The top-earning 20 percent of Americans – those making more than $100,000 each year – received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.
A different measure, the international Gini index, found U.S. income inequality at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.
At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, census data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.
"Income inequality is rising, and if we took into account tax data, it would be even more," said Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who specializes in poverty. "More than other countries, we have a very unequal income distribution where compensation goes to the top in a winner-takes-all economy."
Lower-skilled adults ages 18 to 34 had the largest jumps in poverty last year as employers kept or hired older workers for the dwindling jobs available, Smeeding said. The declining economic fortunes have caused many unemployed young Americans to double-up in housing with parents, friends and loved ones, with potential problems for the labor market if they don't get needed training for future jobs, he said.
Rea Hederman Jr., a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, agreed that census data show families of all income levels had tepid earnings in 2009, with poorer Americans taking a larger hit. "It's certainly going to take a while for people to recover," he said.
The findings are part of a broad array of U.S. census data being released this month that highlight the far-reaching impact of the recent economic meltdown. The effects have ranged from near-historic declines in U.S. mobility and birth rates to delayed marriage and the first drop in the number of illegal immigrants in two decades.
The census figures also come amid heated political debate in the run-up to the Nov. 2 elections over whether Congress should extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts. President Barack Obama wants to extend the tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 and joint filers making less than $250,000; Republicans are pushing for tax cuts for everyone, including wealthy Americans.
The 2009 census tabulations, which are based on pre-tax income and exclude capital gains, are adjusted for household size where data are available. Prior analyses of after-tax income made by the wealthiest 1 percent compared to middle- and low-income Americans have also pointed to a widening inequality gap, but only reflect U.S. data as of 2007.
Among the 2009 findings:
_The poorest poor are at record highs. The share of Americans below half the poverty line – $10,977 for a family of four – rose from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 6.3 percent. It was the highest level since the government began tracking that group in 1975.
_The poverty gap between young and old has doubled since 2000, due partly to the strength of Social Security in helping buoy Americans 65 and over. Child poverty is now 21 percent compared with 9 percent for older Americans. In 2000, when child poverty was at 16 percent, elderly poverty stood at 10 percent.
_Safety nets are helping fill health gaps. The percentage of children covered by government-sponsored health insurance such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program jumped to 37 percent, or 27.6 million, from 24 percent in 2000. That helped offset steady losses in employer-sponsored insurance.
The 2009 poverty level was set at $21,954 for a family of four, based on an official government calculation that includes only cash income. It excludes noncash aid such as food stamps.
Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, noted the effects of expanded government programs in cushioning the impact of skyrocketing unemployment. For example, the Census Bureau estimates that 3.6 million people would have been lifted above the poverty line if food stamps were counted – a number that would have reduced the 2009 poverty rate from the official 14.3 percent to 13.2 percent.
Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor, said while the U.S. has developed policies to combat poverty, it has trouble addressing ever-widening income inequality – even with a growing federal deficit and previous warnings by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan about soaring executive pay.
An Associated Press-GfK Poll this month found that by 54 percent to 44 percent, most Americans support raising taxes on the highest U.S. earners. Still, many congressional Democrats have expressed wariness about provoking the 44 percent minority so close to Election Day.
"We're pretty good about not talking about income inequality," Danziger said.
Joined: Jan 2009
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
"The top-earning 20 percent of Americans – those making more than $100,000 each year – received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968."
"The Tax Foundation estimates that 60% of all Americans now receive more in income benefits from government than they pay into government, and that with new policy directions, the number will grow closer to 70%."
Actually, it seems fair +/- a couple % points.
Joined: Sep 2009
Warren Buffett's response to the Republican's notion of class warfare.
"THERE'S CLASS WARFARE, ALL RIGHT, BUT IT'S MY CLASS, THE RICH CLASS
THAT'S MAKING WAR, AND WE'RE WINNING."
Last edited by Havakasha; 09-29-2010 at 12:51 AM.
Joined: Sep 2009
What the Rich Don’t Need.
By RICHARD H. THALER
Published: September 25, 2010
WANT to give affluent households a present worth $700 billion over the next decade? In a period of high unemployment and fiscal austerity, this idea may seem laughable. Amazingly, though, it is getting traction in Washington.
I am referring, of course, to the current debate about whether to extend all, or just some, of the tax cuts of President George W. Bush — cuts that are due to expire at year-end. They’re expiring because the only way they could be enacted initially was by pretending that they were temporary.
In this situation, it’s not clear what should be called a tax “cut.” If the temporary law is allowed to expire as planned, does that represent a return to normal, or a tax increase? Conversely, if some parts of the current rates are extended, should those count as a tax cut?
Psychologists call these descriptive choices “framing.” No one is proposing that tax rates be lower than they are now, so the question is whether some people should pay more, and, if so, who.
President Obama has proposed retaining the current rates on incomes up to $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. Under this plan, everyone would receive a tax “cut” relative to the rates in effect in the Clinton era. For a family with a $250,000 income or more, the cut would be about $6,000, because its first $250,000 of income would be subject to the current, lower rate. But such families would have a higher bill than they do now.
With the exception of the House minority leader, John Boehner, the Republican leadership has drawn a line in the sand, saying it will oppose Mr. Obama’s bill unless all taxpayers remain at current rates. Although it wouldn’t put it this way, the Republican position is, in effect, that if the rich can’t share in the bounty, rates should rise for everyone.
They offer three arguments to support their view.
The first is that it is folly to raise taxes in a weak economy. There is some merit to this argument, of course, but economic policy is always about trade-offs.
Tax cuts are one of many ways to stimulate the economy. Building infrastructure, for example, is another. We have to choose. And if the primary goal is stimulating the economy, tax breaks to the rich are simply not cost-effective. Numerous studies have shown that the poor spend nearly all of their income, while the rich save a significant amount of theirs.
The second argument is that not extending the tax cuts to high-income earners would impose an excessive burden on small businesses. Here, however, we fall into a statistical morass. The administration points out that only 3 percent of all businesses earn enough to have to pay any additional tax. But Republicans reply that those 3 percent of businesses earn 47 percent of the income from this entire sector, meaning that the higher taxes would apply to the bulk of small-business income.
Which is the most relevant number?
To understand these statistics, we need to know how small business is defined. The data come from tax returns, and the definition of a “small” business is one that is organized so that all the profits pass through to the owners, who then report these profits as income on their personal tax returns.
Partnerships and firms structured as S corporations are examples. This category can include businesses as diverse as barbershops, car washes, hedge funds and law firms. Goldman Sachs was in this category before it became a public company. And the fact that 3 percent of the businesses earn nearly half of the money is precisely what many people are concerned about: growing income inequality.
Which brings us to the third argument. Conservatives say that to do anything other than extending tax cuts to everyone would amount to “class warfare.”
The best response to that notion comes from Warren E. Buffett: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, two academic economists, provide data to back up Mr. Buffett’s view. They show that the proportion of income earned by the top 1 percent of American families was about 10 percent of the national total from 1945 to 1979. Since 1980, that share has doubled, reaching about 20 percent in 2008 — or more, if capital gains are included.
The growth rate has been even faster for the ultrarich — those in the top one-hundredth of 1 percent in income.
Other segments of society, meanwhile, are losing out, with their share of the total declining, and their real incomes remaining stagnant.
And what about incentives? Will the owners of the profitable small businesses work less hard, or hire fewer people, if their own after-tax income falls? This is a much-researched question, and the weight of current evidence suggests that we shouldn’t expect significant real reductions in economic activity if rates change in the range under discussion.
There is another possible argument for including the rich in these tax cuts, one based on “fairness.” By this reasoning, the wealthy are entitled to low tax rates because they have temporarily had them, and it would now be unfair to take them back.
But by that same argument, unemployment insurance should never expire, and every day should be your birthday. “Temporary” has no meaning if it bestows a permanent right.
The question comes down to whether we want a society in which the rich take an ever-increasing share of the pie, or prefer to return to conditions that allow all classes to anticipate an increasing standard of living. Demanding that the rich get a tax cut as a condition for tax relief for others is simply elitist. Tea Partiers, take note.
Richard H. Thaler is a professor of economics and behavioral science at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.