The median income of an American household increased 5.2 percent in 2015, the largest single-year increase since 1967. The poverty rate also fell, and the portion of Americans without health insurance fell to about 10 percent. That’s good news, especially during a recovery whose benefits have disproportionately gone to the very rich and large corporations. The bad news is in the graph above. You will notice that median incomes have risen after the each of the seven recessions of the last 50 years except for two: the last two. Although the historical trend has been for incomes to exceed or at least return to their pre-recession levels during each recovery, the median income is still lower than it was in 2007 or, for that matter, 1998.
The Bard University economist Pavlina Tcherneva has calculated the distribution of income growth during periods of economic expansion, and her results suggest that recovery from the financial collapse of 2008 has been limited to the top 10%. It appears that more than all of the income growth since 2009 has benefited the richest tenth; during our glorious recovery, inflation-adjusted incomes have fallen for 90% of Americans. And don’t even get me started on 2001-2007, the period of wild growth in the finance and real estate sectors that set the stage for 2008’s crash. We saw six years of growth whose gains went to the richest Americans, followed by a jobless recovery that enriched them further at everyone else’s expense.
The New York Times is running stories about inequality, and they are running hard. Today brings news that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world. Our hardworking suburban football fans were tied with Canada’s hockey-gazing layabouts in 2010, and data suggest we’ve been surpassed since. Our poor—families at the 20th percentile of US income—make substantially less than families in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands. But those are all socialist countries. Our working poor may not have as much money, but they have freedom. In the decade since “freedom” became the most important word in American rhetoric, per capita income has shrunk at the 40th, 30th, 20th, 10th and 5th percentiles.
As the chick who does it with Dracula in Dracula once said,* sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. Today is Friday, and that’s good. The American economy collapsed like two years ago and now the only people with jobs are professional assholes arguing about whom to blame for said economy and each other, plus terrorism, and that’s bad. It’s a continuum, see, and we’re all just swept up in it, bobbing up and down like boats, albeit not both up and down simultaneously as would better fit my point. Maybe let’s go back to the pill metaphor. For this week’s link roundup, we have some important stuff that’s so horribly depressing I can barely stand to think about it. We also have Kanye and a fail video, by way of sugar. Won’t you have a swallow with me?