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Posts Tagged ‘wealth’

Foundations of Inequality are in Wages

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

While rising capital share and greater concentration of wealth explain some of the story of economic inequality, the largest part of the story is the growth in wage inequality over the last several decades. Available data from the Social Security Administration unfortunately doesn’t go past 1990, overlooking considerable upward distribution of wages beginning in 1980. However, wage distributions from 1990 to 2015 show a clear, and unequal, upward trend.

The share of wages earned by the top 0.1 percent of wage earners increased 36 percent in that time period, from 3.5 percent of all wages earned to 4.8 percent. These earners are largely Wall Street bankers and top executives from private companies, as well as hospitals, universities, and other non-profits. Although the data from such a small pool of workers is erratic, they show soaring gains over ordinary workers that coincide with stock market peaks. Wages at this income level are likely paid in part in stock options, so that connection is unsurprising, but the magnitude of wage increases for this group compared to the others supports the argument that wages are part of the inequality picture.

The top 1 percent of wage earners (excluding the 0.1 percent) are largely doctors, dentists, and other highly paid professionals with an average pay of around $333,000 a year. These workers have experienced impressive gains in their share of wages, although they do not compare to those of the 0.1 percent. From 1990 to 2015 the share of wages earned by this group increased 24 percent from 10.7 percent to 13.2 percent.

Lawyers, general practitioners, university professors, and other professionals with advanced degrees make up the top 5 percent of earners (excluding the aforementioned groups). Since 1990 their share of wages earned has grown 18 percent, from 24.0 percent to 28.5 percent. Most of the difference between the share of wages earned by this group and the next lowest, the 90th to the 95th percentile, was gained between 1994 and 2000. Prior to that period both percentile groups’ share of wages grew at a similar rate, and since 2000 the two groups have had similar growth.

The final group of workers included in this analysis adds those who mostly have college degrees but not necessarily advanced degrees. The share of wages earned by the top 10 percent taken as a whole grew 14 percent from 35.5 percent in 1990 to 40.3 percent in 2015.

This blog originally appeared at CEPR.net on May 30, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Sarah Rawlins is a Domestic Program Intern at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Dean Baker co-founded CEPR in 1999. His areas of research include housing and macroeconomics, intellectual property, Social Security, Medicare and European labor markets. He is the author of several books, including Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer. His blog, “Beat the Press,” provides commentary on economic reporting. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Michigan.

Trumka: TPP Is a New Low

Thursday, February 4th, 2016
Kenneth Quinnell

In a new op-ed for the Hill, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explains the key reasons why the Trans-Pacific Partnership is bad for working people, both in the United States and overseas. Trumka describes the deal by saying that “the TPP is a giveaway to big corporations, special interests and all those who want economic rules that benefit the wealthy few.”

An excerpt:

We’ve been down this road before. The Wall Street and Washington elite always tell us that this time will be different. The truth is these trade deals have ripped apart the fabric of our nation. We see the shuttered factories. We visit towns that look like they are stuck in the past. We talk to the workers who lost everything, only to be told they should retrain in another field—but Congress has been slow to fund and authorize those programs. From NAFTA to CAFTA to Korea and now the TPP, these agreements have continually put profits over people. By driving down our wages, they make our economy weaker, not stronger.

In many ways, the TPP is a new low. A quick search of the agreement shows no mention of the terms “raising wages” or “climate change.” And by ramming through fast track legislation earlier this year, Congress effectively barred itself from making a single improvement to the TPP.

Working people deserve a better process and a better product. We understand better than anyone that the TPP is just another tool to enrich corporations at the expense of everyday families. We cannot and should not accept it.

Because it can’t fix the TPP, Congress has to take the step of saying to 11 other countries, “No, not this TPP.” Taking that brave step is necessary to create trade rules that lift people up, not crush them under crony capitalism.

Read the full op-ed.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 3, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

Wealth Inequality And Middle-Class Decline Is Worse That We Think

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Isaih J. PooleWe know how bad income inequality has gotten in the past few years in America, thanks largely to the work of economist Emmanuel Saez and his colleagues at University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Equitable Growth. But Saez’s latest paper finds that the share of the nation’s wealth going to the bottom 90 percent of Americans has declined to where it was in the 1940s, erasing decades of hard-won gains due to pro-worker, pro-middle-class economic policies.

Meanwhile, the top 0.1 percent of Americans – the 160,000 families with net assets in excess of $20 million in 2012 – now hold 22 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 7 percent in 1978. That monopolization of a large share of national wealth by an elite few hasn’t been seen since the late 1920s.

The bottom 90 percent, by contrast, saw their wealth share fall from 35 percent in the mid-1980s to about 23 percent in 2012, the paper said. It was about 20 percent in the 1920s, it said.

The paper, “Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data,” focuses not just on wages and income but on the accumulation of overall wealth, including the value of real estate, stocks and certain other assets. It explicitly refutes the view that while nearly all of the gains in national income since the 2008 recession have gone to the top 1 percent, that hasn’t translated into a substantial increase in the concentration of overall wealth at the top. To the contrary, the paper said, “we find that wealth inequality has considerably increased at the top over the last three decades.”

“Wealth concentration has increased particularly strongly during the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and in its aftermath,” the paper said. Largely because of the decline in housing prices, the share of wealth held by the bottom 90 percent fell more than 10 percent from the middle of 2007 to mid-2008. Afterward, real wealth continued declining at a rate of 0.6 percent a year on average through 2012, while it increased at a rate of almost 6 percent a year for the top 1 percent and almost 8 percent a year for the top 0.1 percent.

The bottom line: “Wealth is getting more concentrated in the United States,” and is in fact “ten times more concentrated than income today.”

How did this happen? “The share of wealth owned by the middle class has followed an inverted-U shape evolution,” the paper said. Middle-class households reached the apex of the upside-down “U” in the mid-1980s, driven by the accumulation of housing wealth and, more significantly, pensions. Since then, housing values for the bottom 90 percent as a share of total household wealth has fallen by as much as two-thirds, and most workers have IRAs or 401(k) defined contribution plans instead of pensions. And these households have significantly higher debt than they did in the 1980s.

What can we do about it? The paper points out that it was New Deal policies of the 1930s that began reversing the effects of Gilded Age inequality in the 1930s, particularly “very progressive income and estate taxation” that made it difficult for the wealthy to accumulate large fortunes and pass them to their heirs. “The historical experience of the United States and other rich countries suggests that progressive taxation can powerfully affect income and wealth concentration,” the paper said.

Other steps that can help include “access to quality and affordable education, health benefit cost controls, minimum wage policies, or, more generally, policies shifting bargaining power away from shareholders and management toward workers.” Finally, the paper suggests policies that “nudge” workers toward sound investment and savings vehicles and offer alternatives to short-term debt at high interest rates.

The fact that a group of people equal to the population of Salem, Oregon controls as much of the nation’s wealth as 90 percent of the rest of the country speaks to the fundamental unfairness of our economy. It is a level of imbalance that is as unsustainable today as it was before the crashes of 1929 and 2008. It also stands as a dire warning that we cannot afford to elect more politicians whose policies of giving more relief to the wealthy and more pain to the working class would only make wealth inequality and, and economic inequity, even worse.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on October 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141020/wealth-inequality-and-middle-class-decline-is-worse-that-we-think.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Bowles-Simpson 'B-S' Zombie Plan Tells Working People to 'Drop Dead'

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Jackie TortoraIt’s back. No matter how many times working people reject the Bowles-Simpson “B-S” budget plan that cynically claims it would “promote economic growth “—but would actually snuff out the recovery and cut lifelines for working families—it keeps coming back to the table.

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson released another tired plan today that would cut Social Security COLAs to pay for lower tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, among other things.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement:

Once again, Bowles and Simpson have produced a plan that tells working people to “drop dead.” In December 2010, Bowles and Simpson put forward a budget blueprint that proposed to cut tax rates for corporations and the richest Americans and eliminate taxes on overseas corporate profits, and then pay for these lower tax rates by cutting Social Security benefits, shifting Medicare costs to individuals, taxing health benefits and cutting federal employees’ pay, benefits and jobs. The updated budget blueprint Bowles and Simpson put forward today cuts tax rates for the richest Americans and corporations and pays for these lower tax rates by cutting Social Security COLAs, taxing health benefits and cutting federal employees’ health and retirement benefits. For working people and the future of our nation, it is dead on arrival.

In recent actions and a call-in day to Congress, working families have urged their representatives and senators to:

  • Protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts.
  • Repeal the “sequester” and close loopholes for Wall Street and the wealthiest 2% of Americans instead.

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO on Feb. 19, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

The Filthy Rich Shout "Greed Is Good" and Party With The Politicians

Friday, August 19th, 2011

jonathan-tasiniWhen I wrote the “The Audacity of Greed” in 2008, I had a chapter called “Vodka and Penises” which detailed a rather unique birthday party thrown in Sardinia, Italy, in 2000 by Tyko CEO Dennis Kozlowski in honor of his wife–it featured vodka spraying from the penis of a replica of Michelangelo’s David. Kozlowski, who eventually went to jail for stealing lots of company money including the funds to pay for this little soiree, flew seventy-five guests to the Hotel Cala di Volpe where the privileged invitees played golf and tennis, ate fine food, listened to a performance by the singer Jimmy Buffett (who was paid a fee of $250,000 to appear) and enjoyed a birthday cake in the shape of a woman’s breasts festooned with sparklers on top.

It was a symbol of the greed and avarice coursing through American business.

And it ain’t over–as Leon Black is happy to demonstrate.

Let’s set the backdrop first: millions of Americans are without work, millions more can’t find decent paying work, we still are trying to dig out of a financial crisis caused largely by greed and avarice on Wall Street, we have the greatest divide between rich and poor in 100 years, and we are enduring a longer-term attack against the people by a bankrupt “free market” system that values a few CEOs over the rest of us.

No matter. The party must continue:

Last Saturday night, the financier Leon D. Black celebrated his 60th with a blowout at his oceanfront estate in Southampton, on Long Island. After a buffet dinner featuring a seared foie gras station, some 200 guests took in a show by Elton John. The pop music legend, who closed with “Crocodile Rock,” was paid at least $1 million for the hour-and-a-half performance.

And:

Mr. Black had his backyard transformed into a faux nightclub setting, constructing a wooden deck over his swimming pool and building a tent for Mr. John’s concert. After a buffet of crab cakes and steak, partygoers sat on couches with big puffy pillows.

Who was there?

The stars of music and fashion collided with a who’s who of Wall Street. Revelers included Michael R. Milken, the junk-bond pioneer and Mr. Black’s boss at Drexel Burnham Lambert in the 1980s; Julian H. Robertson Jr. , the hedge fund investor; Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs; and Mr. Schwarzman, head of Blackstone Group.Rounding out the guest list were politicians including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, who rubbed elbows with the media celebrities Martha Stewart and Howard Stern.[emphasis added]

And:

On Saturday night, to be sure, there was little talk of carried interest at the Blacks’ home on Meadow Lane, one of the Hamptons most desirable addresses for its panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Shinnecock Bay. He counts among his neighbors Calvin Klein and David H. Koch, the billionaire industrialist.[emphasis added]

So, here is what is important to glean from this obscene affair, which underscores how we have been robbed–and how we will continue to be robbed in the future.

In my most recent book, “It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On,” I wrote about “carried interest”. Private equity firms get a special tax break—it’s called “carried interest”, Rather than being taxed at the top rate of 35 percent, the private equity fund managers like Black only pay 15 percent through a loophole called “carried interest.” To understand carried interest, you have to first understand how money managers get paid in the yacht-sailing, mansion-buying world of private equity.

First, they receive a fee, which is a percentage of the funds they invest. This fee is usually in the range of two percent, and is taxed like your run-of-the-mill wage income.

Second, and far more lucratively, money managers get a fee based on the performance of their fund—a fee in the range of 20 percent. It’s the second fee that is the so-called “carried interest”—and it’s how the money managers of private equity really rake in the big bucks that pay for their Picassos, yachts and mansions.

In the normal world of taxable income (and let me say that nothing in the tax code is simple when it comes to schemes that allow people like Black to shelter their money), carried interest is taxed as investment income—at the capital gains level of 15 percent (much lower than the top wage income rate), even though most of these managers invest very little, if any, of their own money.

So, a private equity big shot honcho hauling down millions of dollars in “incentive” is taxed at a 15 percent rate, while the receptionist who works in his office, or the police officer who guards the equity baron’s property, probably earn $50,000 or so if they’re lucky—and those average working people pay a 25 percent tax rate on that income (not to mention payroll taxes), a far larger share of their income than the fellow who banks “carried interest.”

Which is how Black can afford to throw obscene birthday parties.

How “carried interest” continue to remain in place can be summed up, in large part, with two words: Chuck Schumer. Schumer has been one of Wall Street’s greatest defenders. And, while there have been calls to eliminate the “carried interest” bonanza, Schumer has blocked that effort time and again, and has also, most recently, flip-flopped on the absurd proposal to give corporate American a tax holiday on the profits companies have stashed over seas.

I understand the movtivation: Wall Street is a huge honeypot for campaign contributions. That is Schumer’s obsession.

But, keeping “carried interest” costs billions of dollars in money lost to our government’s treasury–money for schools, health care for seniors, research, and jobs.

One final point on the private equity world. Even if the “carried interest” is eliminated, we need to keep another point in mind: private equity firms make their huge profits by buying up companies and stripping them of hundreds of thousands of workers in the name of “efficiency”. The longer-term economic crisis is, at heart, a hammering down of wages–which has led to deep despair among the people who can’t make ends meet. Private equity firms have been at the leading edge of feeding that disastrous economic system.

Which is why we should care–and take notice–of the people who party and rub shoulders at these kinds of obscene events.

They just do not care.

Ultimately, for all the rhetoric, this is about the power and wealth of the business and political elite.

It is not about us. Until we torch this system.

*This blog originally appeared in Working Life on August 19, 2011.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.
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