Dec 23 2012
12:57 am

from the Economic Policy Institute.

in decision after decision in the post-1979 period, policy changes were made that nearly all economic analysts agreed would predictably increase economic inequality—and this is exactly what happened. Yet these changes did not spur any boost in overall growth to compensate for the rise in inequality

Translation, or Economic Policy in 7 Seconds:
"A rising tide lifts all boats."
True, but 98% of middle and low-income households don't own a boat and have been taking on water for 30 years.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


I know a 52 year-old woman who has been unemployed for over 18 months since being laid off her position as an office coordinator for a medical practice.

She got a call to interview with Kroger last week, where she had applied for any open position, and had anticipated that this unionized employer would pay a starting wage of maybe $9.00 per hour per advice from her friends.

She was disappointed to learn at the interview that Kroger starts all new hires at minimum wage (or a few cents higher), $7.25 per hour.

So when I was shopping there yesterday, I asked an employee how minimum wage employees could afford union dues and, probably more to the point, why they'd be inclined to join the union if it were as ineffective as that in negotiating any living wage.

The employee, who's been with Kroger over 30 years, said their union membership is way, way down.

She also said that their contract, which had expired in May, was renegotiated just last week and that members were dismayed at its particulars.

The moral of this story appears to be that unions are most effective when there are lots of them.

lonnie's picture



Average Guy's picture

Since 1979?...

Households headed by adults ages 35 and younger had a median net worth of $3,662 in 2009. That marks a 68% decline in wealth, compared to that same age group 25 years earlier.

Over the same time frame, households headed by adults ages 65 years and older, have seen just the opposite. Their wealth rose 42%, to a median of $170,494.


The "Greatest Generation" and "Boomers" have the right to their money, they earned it.

And without the first, we would probably be speaking German.

That said, "that giant sucking sound" of outsourcing isn't the only drain on this economy.

Lack of investment in subsequent generations plays a part. A LOT of money is being hoarded for retirement and health care. (something a single payer system would have helped alleviate)

As it stands, generations are being left with little other than the service industry:

The upside is subsequent generations will likely be left with considerable real estate, but unless something like this passes, that too will just be more debt. Many parts of America has more people dying than being born.

EricLykins's picture

Schumer-Lee housing proposal:

Schumer-Lee housing proposal: We have so many empty houses that people can't afford that we need to import immigrants that can pay cash? Yes, I suppose that would partially satisfy some short term banking industry "growth" expectations...

Average Guy's picture

Better to do nothing than

Better to do nothing than inherit land in areas that have fewer and fewer buyers? (link...)

And that assumes the property is free and clear. If not, the debt generation will just inherit more debt.

bizgrrl's picture

There is so much to be said

There is so much to be said when this information is reported. So much to think about. Could Alex Pareene be a bit of a complainer?

The fact that this gap is getting worse helps explain why so many older Americans don’t get it, when the young people complain.

young people have gone from a generation that worried they’d never be able to afford the homes they grew up in to one that is unable to leave those homes (and then they’re called shiftless and lazy)

Do older people hoard their money because they know the children are returning home? Unable to leave their homes? Could be it depends on where you live. I personally know a young person (around 30) who works at a fast food restaurant and just got an apartment with his girlfriend who also works at a fast food restaurant. And, no, Mom and Dad aren't paying the rent. I'm pretty darn sure the apartment is nothing like living at "home" but they are happy to not be living with their parents (nor living in the park).

Do you want to know how many new cars, cellphones, televisions, computers, tablets, GPSs, dishwashers, washers/dryers, cable TV, Internet, etc. "old" people had by the time they were 30-35? How old were the "old" people when they obtained the house the current generation believes they can't afford or is not willing to leave?

Did the old people pay 3-4% interest on their mortgages? What was the income tax when old people were starting their careers? Were community colleges available when old people were considering college? How many old people had the opportunity to even consider college? How many old women even considered college an option? How many old people had the threat of the military draft? When was the last major conflict that 60,000+ young people died?

Let's not pit the old people against the young people. Let's try to figure out a way that everyone can be happy. Maybe we have to define happy.

Average Guy's picture

Not a pitting,

just the reality.

If one had a college age child, it would be smart to direct them into job sectors that would cater to retirees. If one doesn't want their child returning home, best they enter fields where the money is.

Around here, that would healthcare and service industries.

As for previous generations living leaner, I don't disagree.

I would speculate before the popularity of 401k's and international markets, investors used to put their money into more local endeavors. DW Proffitt wasn't as concerned with Fifth Avenue as he was East Tennessee.

bizgrrl's picture

Reality? What is real?

Reality? What is real? Rhetorical question.

jbr's picture

Living wage calculator at MIT

Living wage calculator at MIT ...

Knoxville. $8.86 per hour for a household with one adult and no children
Knox County. same

Living wage calculator

How much does an employee cost

"The costs to this point (basic salary, employment taxes and benefits) are typically in the 1.25 to 1.4 times base salary range- e.g. the cost range for a $50,000/year employee might $62,500 to $70,000."

How much does an employee cost

Rachel's picture

About to sound like like the

About to sound like like the old woman yelling for kids to get off her lawn, but...

I got my first (used) car when I started grad school because I got married, moved to Rutledge, and had to commute. Now kids EXPECT their own cars when they turn 16.

Also, when my sister gave me a list of what my niece wanted for Christmas, one of the items on the list was $50 eye shadow. I don't think I've paid $50 combined for all the eye shadow I've bought in my entire life.

bizgrrl's picture

I mean really. Maybe she

I mean really. Maybe she would be better off asking for a savings bond to help pay for college.

EricLykins's picture

This will sound snippy in print as well,

Now kids EXPECT

Maybe because their parents BELIEVE and REPEAT the Over-Consumption Myth, a close relative of the Welfare Cadillac. EVERYBODY else is doing it!

But is it true? Intuitions and anecdotes are no substitute for hard data, so we searched deep in the recesses of federal archives, where we found detailed information on Americans' spending patterns since the early 1970s, carefully sorted by spending categories and family size.

redmondkr's picture

I used to work with an

I used to work with an electrician who said he told both of his children they could attend any college in the country and he would provide them with free room and board.....right there at home in Oak Ridge.

fischbobber's picture

Now kids EXPECT their own cars when they turn 16.

Just as the public education system does not fail all children, not all children have that level of expectation.

That came off snippyier than I intended, but watching my kids adjust to lower expectations this Christmas has really made me proud.

Merry Christmas from all of us thankful for 14$ tennis shoes from Costco.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Dear Bob,

Every time my kids whine to spend in ways we can't (or at least "shouldn't"), I make them finish this sentence--

Mom: "Even Donald Trump..."

Petulant child (rolling eyes): "...has a budget. Sigh."

Mom: "That's right. If he didn't, he'd be bankrupt."

I, for one, think you're doing a great job. Hang in there.


fischbobber's picture


I didn't intend the tone of my last post to be quite as brusque as it was but I think I would be remiss to let the fact that many of notice the gap between the upper and lower classes widening.

My guess is that there are two ways to raise one's children to grab at the opportunity to stay on the upper side. One is to heighten the parent's level of expectation from the child. This method involves being as honest as is age appropriate of the way the world works. That doesn't mean there is no Santa Claus. It just means he's busting his but to make stuff happen and being good is just what's expected if the whole deal is to work. This holds true with grades, sports, scouts, etc. Doing one's best is just what it takes. Deal with it.

The other is to heighten the child's level of expectation of what to expect from the world. The Paris Hilton effect, if you will. Rich people want friends and marriage partners too, and raising a child to fill that role by teaching the chameleon effect works. Plus, it's easier.

The parents I generally see tend to use the former technique or a reasonable blend of the two styles. I have a tendency to be too blunt for my own good at times and folks too concerned about social climbing tend to look for others with more percieved social standing than they feel I offer.

As for the older generation hoarding money, part of the problem with half of a generation jumping on the Ronald Reagan bandwagon is that they think it's all about them. They can marry and divorce with no consequence, they don't pay taxes, and they don't save. At one time there was a universal obligation to family, no more. If subsequent generations aren't being staked, then when it's time to care for their elders, the resources just aren't there.

Again, sorry about being snipey , it being Christmas and all, but if peer expectation is that there are no social obligations and everyone not participating in "every man for himself" is a chump, then social order will begin to crumble.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.- Pogo

EricLykins's picture

it being Christmas and all,

it being Christmas and all, but if peer expectation is that there are no social obligations and everyone not participating in "every man for himself" is a chump, then social order will begin to crumble.

I'm going to hug a Republican today if I can find one. I just read that they are less optimistic about the future than Syrians, Greeks or Afghans.

Pam Strickland's picture

$50 eye shadow. Jeez. When I

$50 eye shadow. Jeez. When I was 16, my butt would have been whipped for asking for such a thing. I had tons of eye shadow in college, but it was from the drug store. For real. These days I mostly use what comes in the bonus gift package when I macke my twice a year Clinique purchase. And that's probably what I would have told the niece. I'm blunt like that.

I got a car when I was a senior in high school, but it was practical -- a used VW. And unlike most I had insurance money from when my parents were killed and a first car was one of the things it was expected to buy. As was a college education. I'm ever thankful.

redmondkr's picture

NPR had an article the other

NPR had an article the other day about vendors who offer customizing options online for their products. They interviewed a high school kid who was bragging about his designs for several custom pairs of Nike athletic shoes and about how 'everybody wanted them' although they cost about 20% to 25% more than the already ridiculous prices for their shoes.

I can just imagine the pressure a parent in my income level would endure when they heard that everybody else is wearin' 'em.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Yeah, Converse is doing it, too.

I told my teenage son we'd just carry our 40% off coupon over to Hobby Lobby and scope out their multi-packs of colored Sharpies, small iron-on transfers, and bright colored grommets.

(BTW, that 43 year-old hand-held grommet setter Mom put in my very first sewing kit has saved me probably $3000, over the years. You heard it first here.)

EricLykins's picture

Have you seen the brush-tip

Have you seen the brush-tip Sharpies for fabric?

EricLykins's picture

Ten states will raise minimum

AnonymousOne's picture

I-Pads, I-phones, laptops,

I-Pads, I-phones, laptops, and video games galore.

The middle class has spent their savings on spoiling their kids and keeping up with the Jones's spoiling of their kids.

I have no sympathy.

You don't want to know how many clients I had as a social services case worker who had brand new model cars and better and newer cell phones than my flip top.

EricLykins's picture

Flashback from last March:

Flashback from last March: Where did you spend the money?

Lively discussion, 25 comments, several of them lengthy

A fully employed male in 2004 was making $800 less per year than his father in 1972. Family wages are up slighlty since then because a 2004 woman with a 6 month-old child is as likely to work as her mother with a sixteen year-old child in 1972.

So, we have roughly the same amount of money.

The American family spends 32% less on clothing.

18% less on food.

52% less on appliances.

24% lower per car average, with people keeping a car 2 years longer.

These two-income families should have it made. Why are they whining? Why are children now more likely to go through their parents bankruptcy than divorce? Where did the money go?

More data on frivolous spending today vs. a generation ago here.

As has been pointed out, this is all very much an educational issue, but I don't need Elizabeth warren to explain to me the bidding war for suburban homes in good school districts. After my stepfather died last year I moved in with my whole famdamily. We rent a quarter of a million dollar home so my 13 year old niece can go to a good school, and it takes 5 incomes to make that happen.

I don't understand why most solutions being offered hinge upon further abandoning public education and further segregating communities by income. Warren makes a case for a different kind of voucher system that would be highly disruptive in the short term but should rebalance simultaneously the public education system and the housing market. Proposals that don't link the two are nothing more than snake oil and band-aids. You can read this section of the book here.

Average Guy's picture

Educational choices

Like TV, how one uses digital technology is up to them. It's just as easy to watch the Smithsonian channel as it is to watch "Honey Boo-boo". iPads can be used for online courses, not just Facebook. iPhones can be a great tool for telecommuting.

IMO, the real tragedy in this century is that schools haven't taken enough advantage of technology. There's no reason every French class in America shouldn't be video chatting with their French peers.

Average Guy's picture

Reaserch on what?

I'd say research on the dusty old 486 in the corner of a French class that provides the same text in a book doesn't provide much.

Is there research on an American student sharing hours of FaceTime with peer students in France?

I'm pretty sure immersion learning has been researched at length.

Average Guy's picture

Let's try...,


Feel better?

fischbobber's picture


Poverty is, among other things, an education issue. Just because some rich f*** tells you you need to buy something, doesn't mean he's not lying.

Just because he can afford a real slick ad campaign to convince you he's not lying, doesn't mean he's not lying.

Illusion is not reality.

Class dismissed.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Not to discount the legitimate topic of this thread, Toby, which is growing income inequality (due to stagnant wages, union-busting, etc.), I think AnonymousOne is speaking to another equally legitimate topic, namely our national ignorance of basic personal financial management--as in that guy I carried the groceries to, only to learn he'd just spent his paltry paycheck on $90 shoes I don't feel I can afford!

Like Bob observes, poverty is--at least in part--an "education issue."

Case in point: TN is the bankruptcy capital of the nation, hence the legislature's decision to add a semester of persoanl finance coursework to the state's high school graduation requirements.

Yeah, I know there's lots more the TN legislature could do to help and, again, I don't trivialize the urgent need to address why our growing income inequality, BUT that problem only makes more crucial the need to manage prudently what income we do have.

(Please don't insult the hausfrau lacking any cell phone, paying just $20/month for Basic Cable, and driving an eight year-old salvage vehicle. I am adding $100/month to the required amount for every mortgage payment and managing that payroll deduction to the 401-k, alright?!)

Tamara Shepherd's picture


And I don't mind speaking about such matters on a public forum because I know full well what the average household income is in Knox County, which means I'm also perfectly confident that a whole lotta folks live like I do.

Probably most.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


In the way of explaining my pointedness, my husband covered this month the November mortgage payment for one of my relatives--but not before I personally dialed the number for Direct TV and handed the woman the phone to cancel her service.

I also went into her garage and unloaded her second refrigerator (she lives alone) to stash its contents in the fridge sitting in her kitchen.

Suck it up.

vernon's picture

When I talk to employers some

When I talk to employers some say they have a hard time finding skilled workers and workers who can pass a drug test.We are running out of young people who are interested in becoming skilled carpenters,masons,plumbers,welders etc.Maybe better training for those skills would provide more opportunity for some.

fischbobber's picture

Wages for skilled labor

Those are 35 dollar an hour jobs that currently pay about one third of that. When the wages catch up to the wealth that these jobs produce and the workers are reasonably compensated for their labor, people will return to these professions.

Until then, there should be a moratorium on building nuclear facilities as the quality in the labor market does not justify the inherent risk involved in the building of said plants. The risk that the welds won't hold is just too great.

vernon's picture

I want it all now,Thats

I want it all now,Thats exactly the attitude that leads people to a job flipping burgers.$35 is high but someone who is skilled should make 20 25 an hour.Heck even using your guess starting at $17.00 an hour pays the bills.The point is learn a trade,have a way to make a living.

Stick's picture

Let me finish this for you:

When I talk to employers some say they have a hard time finding skilled workers and workers who can pass a drug test...

...for the wage that they are paying.

fischbobber's picture

Wages for skilled labor

As you would know if you worked for a living as opposed to brokering others production, a man's worth is measured by the market value of his work. The entire value of a half million dollar house is produced by the laborer, yet the contractors, developers, real estate agents and banks take the lion's share of the profit.

Why would a reasonably intelligent person choose a high risk career, subject to the whims of the market, just so a bunch of snot nosed rich kids could steal from him the rest of his life? That's why there is a skilled labor shortage.

35.00 dollars an hour is low. Try buying insurance, saving for retirement. buying a house and educating two fairly intelligent children on that. It's a slightly lower middle class existence.

vernon's picture

Lets use your reference to

Lets use your reference to home building.First I don t know any rich snot nosed kids who make it very long in any business with the attitude you make reference to.Second,who cares who pays you as long as the money is paid.Most General contractors started as a sub,doing the work for a wage with no risk of losing all they have and all they will ever have.After a couple of years they use their experience and relationships to borrow enough money to build a spec house ,then 2, then 4.I see this happen frequently,but it takes someone with drive. Thats how successful, driven people start a business.Sorry,there are no trade schools for "rich guy".Now, that doesn t mean that if someone doesn t have that desire they can t survive,I know numerous tradesman that are perfectly happy putting in the hours and doing what they do.The original complaint was that too many people are forced to work for minimum wage.If you sit around and wait for guaranteed wealth you ll find yourself without success or you ll end up taking a job for a large company only to be laid off and constantly be a number. I can tell you story after story of people who started small and are now some of the wealthy "boogie men" you complain about.

fischbobber's picture

Story after story

And I can tell you story after story of rich kids born with a silver spoon up their nose that think the function of every other living creature is to serve their neverending quest for primal pleasure. These are the sort of people that would hunt praire dogs with .223 centerfire ammo for the sick joy of watching them blow up.

Just because you know numerous tradespeople happy being underpaid doesn't make it right, nor does it address the shortage of skilled tradespeople. The craftsmanship on modern housing is no where near it was fifty years ago and , indeed, were it not for specs being reduced to the point of being barely safe, most contractors couldn't make a living. Were illegal aliens to leave the trades in Knoxville wages would increase 25% to 50% overnight.

Do you think all those happy tradesman you know would keep working at a reduced wage?

The issue you brought to the table is that there was a shortage of skilled tradesman. The response was that the market does not justify a competent worker entering those trades when there is more money to be made elsewhere. Contractors are destroying their own market by offereing inferior product produced by lower skilled workers for higher prices simply because there are enough suckers to support them at present. This is a major driving force in the reduction of property values. Modern structures are built with a limited lifespan. The no longer out-live the purchaser. Your attempt at obfusticating the truth doesn't change it.

R. Neal's picture

The entire value of a half

The entire value of a half million dollar house is produced by the laborer, yet the contractors, developers, real estate agents and banks take the lion's share of the profit.

A couple of problems with that statement. You are discounting the value of the property it is built on and the value of the materials used in construction. That plus labor are the "lions share" of the value. Further, the contractors, developers and bankers all add value by investing and taking on risk to get the house built and financed. The real estate agents, through their labor, add value by putting buyers and sellers together and getting it sold.

fischbobber's picture

The product

You are correct about the property and materials.

However, the contractors, developers, bankers and agents are all dependent on the wealth that the laborer has produced in order to recieve payment for their services. The market will operate without any of the functions you mention, but without a product, there is no market.

A market does, however, sometimes function more efficiently with contractors, developers, bankers and agents involved. The issue is the relative value of all these functions. The idea that capitol providers are entitled to anything beyond 5% of the fed rate for anything is ludicris, yet we accept it as a way of life. While putting more responsibility on the laborer, (see the various certification procedures for trades) the laborers wages have remained stagnent and often declined in purchasing power while the others in the food chain have taken more and more of the final value of the product and put that in their own pocket. It has resulted in a lower quality product (go to Choto and ask some newer homeowners) and lower wages and consequently, less skilled and often illegal workers performing the labor. The housing industry is killing its goose that has traditionally laid its golden egg. It has been going on incrementally for years, it's just now coming to the forefront because it's just now reaching critical mass.

R. Neal's picture

The idea that capitol

The idea that capitol providers are entitled to anything beyond 5% of the fed rate for anything is ludicris, yet we accept it as a way of life.

I think you meant "capital" and "ludicrous," but regardless I don't know where you come up with the fed rate + 5%. I imagine every deal is different, and ends up more or less than 5% depending on the amount of risk. Higher risk = higher reward in most normally functioning financial markets.

As for what an investor is "entitled" to or what their "relative value" might be, normally functioning markets generally decide that, too.

There is always fraud and abuse, but those are also a part of normally functioning financial or any other kinds of markets. Regulation and enforcement are, too, but are unfortunately absent a lot these days.

Anyway, the point is you are devaluing the work of entire professions and classes of people who actually do add value to our economy most of the time, and even make things possible for labor and everyone else from time to time.

fischbobber's picture

Shoes and feet

Anyway, the point is you are devaluing the work of entire professions and classes of people who actually do add value to our economy most of the time, and even make things possible for labor and everyone else from time to time.

If what you are saying is that I've succeeded in puting the shoe on the other foot, I'll accept that as a compliment.

What I have done is use the right's own arguments against labor against them. Studying Samuel Gompers had a profound effect on me years ago and I think the grandest disservice modern education does to this generation is not teaching extensively how the working class, through their own risk, toil and determination built this nation throughout the twentieth century.

Lest we forget the roots of the labor movement;

1890: I believe that the trade unions will bring about both the improvement of conditions and the ultimate emancipation of workers. . . . I think that the emancipation of the working classes has to be achieved by the workers themselves. Trade unions are the pure, unadulterated organizations of the working classes.
(Vol. 2: New Yorker Volkszeitung, Dec. 21, 1890)


Finally I'd like to point out that the value of the professions I'm accused of devaluing is perceived and not absolute. The absolute value of wealth and the perceived value of the people deciding how much wealth will be produced and how it will be distributed are two different things. This is not to say there is no value in the professions you defend, only that the value is out of proportion to any sense of its worth. It's why unregulated capitalism is doomed to failure. Its ultimate end is that one entity controls it all.

fischbobber's picture

Good Catch

Good catch on the spelling, by the way. Ludicris made it through my spell check, which, I just noticed was turned off. Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit drinking.

vernon's picture

Man what is your deal?,Do you

Man what is your deal?,Do you just wake up pissed off and miserable every day or what.I ve never come across someone who claims to be an expert on every issue in the world, but doesn t know jack about any of them.
The glory days as you refer to them, in most cases had no specs at all.Most houses were built without the numerous inspections and engineering that there are today.They did use better materials because they could.
As for constant bemoaning of profits-you have met the enemy and he is you.Big profits are made on the back end of big real estate deals.A major player in driving these profits is the employee pension fund mangers.Investment property usually gets sold to retirement and pension fund mangers.They buy a variety of property types such as Walmart,home depot, Walgreen,hotels,apts,etc.Numerous employee and union pension funds,including UPS, invest heavily in real estate developments.In the end, lots of real estate developers and contractors not only employ tradesman, they provide a vehicle to support their retirement funds as well,maybe even yours.
So again I don t get the argument against a more focused approach to encouraging trades as a more viable career choice and I definitely don't get the attitude,I don t slam truck drivers,yet you always want to slam real estate as an occupation.

fischbobber's picture

State of Working America

I thought this was a thread about the State of Working Americans not how the real estate industry has destroyed our pension system.

EricLykins's picture

A discussion of inequality

A discussion of inequality wouldn't be complete without talking about pension funds blowing up prices.

fischbobber's picture

Pension Funds

Once managers were allowed to skim funds from the top of so-called overfunded pensions the script was written for this impending catastrophe. Typically, as a nation, we have waited until a collapse to regulate financial markets.

It would be nice for the government to be proactive for once but Boner is not likely to let that happen.

Average Guy's picture


One of the big problems for home building labor is the housing surplus.

New construction still runs about $120 per sq/ft. As long as there are existing market homes that are selling for $80 - $100 a sq/ft, there will be dearth in the housing labor market. One that allows contractors to get laborers cheaper than they otherwise would.

fischbobber's picture


Apprentices don't make the same wage as a journeyman. There is a wage progression as one gains knowledge and experience in accordance to the value and worth one brings to the marketplace.

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