Earlier this week, Marty posted about the increasingly huge share of income going to the richest Americans. And as we’ve seen in the past, Americans tend to way — way — underestimate how unequal the U.S. is.
This video (via Upworthy) does a great job illustrating the distribution of wealth, and how it compares to Americans’ perceptions of both the real and ideal distribution. Even if you know all this stuff, and can recite the statistics, the visual representation of exactly what that means is still jarring.
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
The great majority of Americans might find the post-recession expansion disappointing, but not the top earners.
The following table reveals that our economic system is operating much differently than in the recent past. The rightmost column shows that the top 1% captured 68% of all the new income generated over the period 1993 to 2012, but a full 95% of all the real income growth during the 2009-2012 recovery from the Great Recession. In contrast, the top 1% only captured 45% of the income growth during the Clinton expansion and 68% during the Bush expansion.
Of that weren’t enough, the next chart offers another perspective on how well top income earners are doing. In the words of the New York Timesarticle that included it:
…the top 10% 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… The top 1% 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.
We have a big economy. Slow growth isn’t such a big deal if you are in the top 1% and 22.5% of the total national income is yours and you can capture 95% of any increase. As for the rest of us…
One question rarely raised by those reporting on income trends: What policies are responsible for these trends?
Last week sociologist Philip Cohen, who blogs at Family Inequality, attended the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. He noted that the crowd was primarily Black; you can see participants in his photoset here. Are White people unenthusiastic about Civil Rights? Perhaps. There is evidence, in any case, that they are less likely than Black Americans to think that ongoing activism is necessary. Cohen offers the results of a series of polls.
Pew Research Data published in the Los Angeles Times reveals that Black people are less likely than White people to think we’ve made a lot of progress in the last 50 years. They are also substantially more likely to believe that Blacks are treated less fairly than Whites in a wide range of circumstances:
A Gallup poll confirms that Black Americans are less likely than Whites to feel that race-related rights are “greatly improved.” It also reveals that they are more than twice as likely to endorse new civil rights laws and government intervention to assure non-discrimination.
Finally, the General Social Survey asks whether the fact that Blacks are worse off than Whites is due to mainly to discrimination or because of some other cause. More than half of Blacks and a third of Whites say “yes, it’s discrimination.”
These data reveal that plenty of White Americans are concerned with racial equality, believe we have a long way to go, and support working to improve the treatment of Black Americans. There are also plenty of Black Americans that think things aren’t so bad. Nonetheless, there is a significant and persistent racial gap between the two groups.
Four years into the economic recovery, U.S. workers’ pay still isn’t even keeping up with inflation. The average hourly pay for a nongovernment, non-supervisory worker, adjusted for price increases, declined to $8.77 last month from $8.85 at the end of the recession in June 2009, Labor Department data show.
In other words, as the chart below illustrates, the great majority of workers are experiencing real wage declines over this expansion”
Growth also remains sluggish, increasing “at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of less than 2% for three straight quarters — below the pre-recession average of 3.5%.” But by intensifying the pace of work and reducing the pay of their employees, corporations have been able to boost their profits despite the slow growth.
The following chart from an Economic Policy Institute study shows the continuing and growing disconnect between productivity and private sector worker compensation (which includes wages and benefits) using two different measures of compensation.
As the Economic Policy Institute study explains, “there has been no sustained growth in average compensation since 2004. The stagnation began even earlier, in 2003, when considering wages alone. Since 2003, wages as measured by both the ECI and the ECEC (not shown) have not grown at all — a lost decade for wages.”
The point then is that we need a real jobs program, one that is designed to create new meaningful jobs and boost the well-being of those employed. Government efforts to sustain the existing expansion have certainly been responsive to corporate interests. It should now be obvious that such efforts offer workers very little.
Paraphrasing Donald Rumsfeld, there are things we know and things we don’t know, and things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t know we don’t know.
One thing many working people in American don’t know that they don’t know is how poor our social benefits are compare with those enjoyed by workers in other countries. No doubt one reason is the general media blackout about worker experiences in other countries. A case in point: vacation benefits.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research recently completed a study of vacation benefits in advanced capitalist economies. Here is what the authors found:
The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirements of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world’s rich countries offer at least six paid holidays per year.
Even though paid vacations and holidays are not legally required in the United States, some employers do provide them to their workers. The table below shows the paid vacations and paid holidays offered in the U.S. private sector based on data from the 2012 National Compensation Survey. The first two columns show the percentage of private sector workers that receive paid leave, vacation and holidays. The next two columns show the average number of paid vacation and paid holidays provided to those employees that receive the relevant benefit. The last two columns show the average number of paid vacation and paid holidays for all private sector workers, meaning those that receive and those that do not receive the relevant benefits.
Thus, on average, private-sector workers in the United States receive ten days of paid vacation per year and six paid holidays. This total still leaves U.S. workers last in the rankings even when compared with the legal minimums highlighted above. And many employers in these other countries also offer more paid leave than legally required.
Moreover, several countries require additional paid leave for younger and older workers, additions that are also not included in the legal minimums highlighted above. For example, “in Switzerland, workers under the age of 30 who do volunteer work with young people are entitled to an additional five days of annual leave. Norway offers an additional week of vacation to workers over the age of 60.”
And some countries provide additional leave for workers with difficult schedules. For example, “Australia offers some shift workers an additional work week of leave. Austria offers workers with ‘heavy night work’ two to three extra days of leave, depending on how frequently they do this shift work, and an additional four days of leave after five years of shift work.”
Several countries offer additional paid leave for jury service, moving, getting married, or community or union work. For example, “French law guarantees unpaid leave for community work, including nine work days for representing an association and six months for projects of ‘international solidarity’ abroad and leave with partial salary for ‘individual training’ that is less than one year. Sweden requires employers to provide paid leave for workers fulfilling union duties.”
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, and Sweden even require employers to pay workers at a premium rate while they are on vacation.
There is more to say, but the point should be clear. Ignorance of experiences elsewhere has narrowed our own sense of possibilities.
In analysis of Presidential pardons during the George W. Bush administration, ProPublica has found that whites were four times as likely as non-whites to be granted a pardon. Pardons were granted to 12% of whites, 10% of Hispanics and Asians, and zero percent of Blacks and Native Americans. The disparity remained even when investigators controlled for type of crime.
…President George W. Bush decided at the beginning of his first term to rely almost entirely on the recommendations made by career lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
The office was given wide latitude to apply subjective standards, including judgments about the “attitude” and the marital and financial stability of applicants…
Bush followed the recommendations of the pardons office in nearly every case… President Obama — who has pardoned 22 people, two of them minorities — has continued the practice of relying on the pardons office.
Sometimes disparate decisions in pardon cases were eyebrow raising:
An African American woman from Little Rock, fined $3,000 for underreporting her income in 1989, was denied a pardon; a white woman from the same city who faked multiple tax returns to collect more than $25,000 in refunds got one. A black, first-time drug offender — a Vietnam veteran who got probation in South Carolina for possessing 1.1 grams of crack – was turned down. A white, fourth-time drug offender who did prison time for selling 1,050 grams of methamphetamine was pardoned.
ProPublica traces the disparity to age, leniency given to people who are seen as “upstanding” members of society (e.g., they’re married, have little debt), the influence of money and politics (letters from Congresspersons and donations to lawmakers by convicts’ spouses), and simple prejudice. Nevertheless:
When the effects of those factors and others were controlled using statistical methods, however, race emerged as one of the strongest predictors of a pardon.
Originally posted in 2012. Re-posted in solidarity with the African American community; regardless of the truth of the Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, it’s hard not to interpret the finding of not-guilty as anything but a continuance of the criminal justice system’s failure to ensure justice for young Black men.
Excellent Occidental College student Ryan Metzler made a great 7 minute documentary about the decline of heteronormativity. Interviewing me and several other scholars and activists about the history of marriage and the changing definition of family, he offers a quick and optimistic analysis of what it means for this country to be changing.
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states with a documenting history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws. When the law was passed in 1965, one of its main targets were “literacy tests.”
Ostensibly designed to ensure that everyone who voted could read and write, they were actually tools with which to disenfranchise African Americans and sometimes Latinos and American Indians. Minority voters were disproportionately required to take these tests and, when they did, the election official at the polling place had 100% jurisdiction to decide which answers were correct and score the test as he liked. The point was to intimidate and turn them away from the polls. If this sounds bad, you should see the range of disturbing and terrifying things the White elite tried to keep minorities from voting.
The tactics to manipulate election outcomes by controlling who votes is still part and parcel of our electoral politics. In fact, since most voters are not “swing” voters, some would argue that “turnout” is a primary ground on which elections are fought. This is not just about mobilizing or suppressing Democrats or Republicans, it’s about mobilizing or suppressing the turnout of groups likely to vote Democrat or Republican. Since most minority groups lean Democrat, Republicans have a perverse incentive to suppress their turn out. In other words, this isn’t a partisan issue; I’d be watching Democrats closely if the tables were turned.
Indeed, states have already moved to implement changes to voting laws that had been previously identified as discriminatory and ruled unconstitutional under the Voting Act. According to the Associated Press:
After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.
So, yeah, it appears that Chief Justice John Roberts’ justification that “our country has changed” was pretty much proven wrong within a matter of hours or days. This is bad. It will be much more difficult to undo discriminatory laws than it was to prevent them from being implemented and, even if they are challenged and overturned, they will do damage in the meantime.