11/30/2022

The myth of stagnant incomes

Unless you’ve been hibernating in the Himalayas, you must know of the recent surge in economic inequality. It’s not just that the rich are getting richer. The rest of us — say politicians, pundits and scholars — are stagnating. The top 1 percent have grabbed most income gains, while average Americans are stuck in the mud.

Well, it’s not so. That’s the message — perhaps unintended — from the Congressional Budget Office, which reports periodically on the distribution and growth of the nation’s income. It recently found that most Americans had experienced clear-cut income gains since the early 1980s.

This conclusion is exceptionally important, because the CBO study is arguably the most comprehensive tabulation of Americans’ incomes.

. . . The study found otherwise. The poorest fifth of Americans (a fifth is known as a “quintile”) enjoyed a roughly 80 percent post-tax income increase since 1979. The richest quintile — those just below the top 1 percent — had a similar gain of nearly 80 percent. The middle three quintiles achieved less, about a 50 percent rise in post-tax incomes.

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