Now that the Bush tax cuts are targeted for extension via a
strongarming compromise by the GOP, here’s a little perspective:
Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar, new data from the Social Security Administration show. Total wages, median wages, and average wages all declined, but at the very top, salaries grew more than fivefold…
The number of Americans making $50 million or more, the top income category in the data, fell from 131 in 2008 to 74 last year. But that’s only part of the story.
The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!
You read that right. In the Great Recession year of 2009 (officially just the first half of the year), the average pay of the very highest-income Americans was more than five times their average wages and bonuses in 2008. And even though their numbers shrank by 43 percent, this group’s total compensation was 3.2 times larger in 2009 than in 2008, accounting for 0.6 percent of all pay. These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.
Back in 1994, when the top category the government reported on was $20 million or more of compensation, only 25 people were in that rarefied atmosphere, and their average earnings came to just under $45 million in 2009 dollars.
What does this all mean? It is the latest, and in this case quite dramatic, evidence that our economic policies in Washington are undermining the nation as a whole. We have created a tax system that changes continually as politicians manipulate it to extract campaign donations. We have enabled ‘‘free trade’’ that is nothing of the sort, but rather tax-subsidized mechanisms that encourage American manufacturers to close their domestic factories, fire workers, and then use cheap labor in China for products they send right back to the United States. This has created enormous downward pressure on wages, and not just for factory workers.
So, when are we going to stop accepting this? When are we going to see the fundamental economic inequality that’s killing us as a nation? I fear it’s too late.