Recoveries Are Not For Poor People

If, as I sometimes argue, the contemporary conservative movement is determined to take America back to the Roaring Twenties, or at least the period prior to the enactment of hte New Deal, income distribution figures show we are already there in some respects, per this report from the New York Times‘ Annie Lowrey based on new research from Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez and LSE’s Thomas Piketty.

The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s total income in 2012, the highest level recorded since the government began collecting the relevant data a century ago, according to an updated study by the prominent economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty.

The top 1 percent took more than one-fifth of the income earned by Americans, one of the highest levels on record since 1913, when the government instituted an income tax.

The figures underscore that even after the recession the country remains in a new Gilded Age, with income as concentrated as it was in the years that preceded the Depression of the 1930s, if not more so.

High stock prices, rising home values and surging corporate profits have buoyed the recovery-era incomes of the most affluent Americans, with the incomes of the rest still weighed down by high unemployment and stagnant wages for many blue- and white-collar workers.

“These results suggest 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,” Mr. Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in his analysis of the data.

So the economic “recovery” we are in is for most Americans at best a return to the stagnant real wages and treading-water living standards of the 2000s, along with a decline in wealth and in economic insecurity, not to mention a continuing calamity for the long-term unemployed. But for all the endless and incessant and redundant whining from the political representatives of the wealthy about “class warfare” and “socialism” and the impending extinction of “makers” by “takers,” the rich are “recovering” just fine. Lord, they might even somehow survive the implementation of Obamacare.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.