Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Scott Winship takes down a noxious piece in the Financial Times on our economic stagnation:

Their son, Andy, was recently knocked off his mother’s health insurance and only painfully reinstated for a large fee.

Luce is arguing that there’s a new crisis facing the current generation. About 30 percent of those age 18 to 24 were uninsured in 2008 when the National Health Interview Survey contacted them. I don’t have trends for that age group, but the share of Americans under age 65 without health insurance coverage was 14.7 percent in 2008, up from….14.5 percent in 1984.

And, much like the boarded-up houses that signal America’s epidemic of foreclosures, the drug dealings and shootings that were once remote from their neighbourhood are edging ever closer, a block at a time.

Well, the violent crime rate in 2008 was 19.3 per 1,000 people age 12 and up, down from 27.4 in 2000 and 45.2 in 1985...

The slow economic strangulation of the Freemans and millions of other middle-class Americans started long before the Great Recession, which merely exacerbated the “personal recession” that ordinary Americans had been suffering for years. Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled. In 1973, chief executives were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now the multiple is above 300.

Adjusting for household size and using the PCE deflator to adjust for inflation, median household income in the Current Population Survey rose from $29,800 in 1973 to $40,500 in 2008 (in 2009 dollars, again based on my compuatations). Factoring in employer and government noncash benefits would show even more impressive growth.

In the last expansion, which started in January 2002 and ended in December 2007, the median US household income dropped by $2,000 – the first ever instance where most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the start.

This is entirely a function of changes in the population composition (more Latinos) and in the share of employee compensation going to health insurance and retirement plans.

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