Incomes Flat in Recovery, but Not for the 1% – NYTimes.com
WASHINGTON — Incomes rose more than 11 percent for the top 1 percent of earners during the economic recovery, but not at all for everybody else, according to new data.The numbers, produced by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, show overall income growing by just 1.7 percent over the period. But there was a wide gap between the top 1 percent, whose earnings rose by 11.2 percent, and the other 99 percent, whose earnings declined by 0.4 percent.Mr. Saez, a winner of the John Bates Clark Medal, an economic laurel considered second only to the Nobel, concluded that “the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s.”The disparity between top earners and everybody else can be attributed, in part, to differences in how the two groups make their money. The wealthy have benefited from a four-year boom in the stock market, while high rates of unemployment have continued to hold down the income of wage earners.“We have in the middle basically three decades of problems compounded by high unemployment,” said Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-of-center research group in Washington. “That high unemployment we know depresses wage growth throughout the wage scale, but more so for the bottom than the middle and the middle than the top.”In his analysis, Mr. Saez said he saw no reason that the trend would reverse for 2012, which has not yet been analyzed. For that year, the “top 1 percent income will likely surge, due to booming stock prices, as well as retiming of income to avoid the higher 2013 top tax rates,” Mr. Saez wrote, referring to income tax increases for the wealthy that were passed by Congress in January. The incomes of the other “99 percent will likely grow much more modestly,” he said.Excluding earnings from investment gains, the top 10 percent of earners took 46.5 percent of all income in 2011, the highest proportion since 1917, Mr. Saez said, citing a large body of work on earnings distribution over the last century that he has produced with the economist Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics.Concern for the declining wages of working Americans and persistent high levels of inequality featured heavily in President Obama’s State of the Union address this week. He proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 from $7.25 as one way to ameliorate the trend, a proposal that might lift the earnings of 15 million low-income workers by the end of 2015.