Saturday, December 03, 2011

Average American makes near-poverty wages

Wonder why the bottom 50% of Americans have nothing? Well, it's simple: the median American wage is almost at poverty level for a family of four.

Don't believe me? Really? Well... here's the official Social Security data. There's a lot of interesting things to note in that table. First of all, note that income is really toploaded, and that's been true for a long time. The huge sums of money earned by the top 10%, and especially by the top 1%, skew the averages way up. But over the past twenty years, that's gotten even worse. The median income was 72% of the average income in 1991. In 2010, the last year for which SSA publishes data, the median income was 65.976% of the average. In other words, the share of national income held by the bottom 50% has gone down significantly over the past twenty years.

But we already knew that. So just *how* significantly? Well... the median wage -- which half of Americans make less than -- was $26,363.55 in 2010. The Federal poverty level for a family of four in 2010 was $22,050 in 2010 -- and the 133% mark, which most experts consider the line below which a family of four is living under conditions of extreme financial distress and has difficulty meeting basic needs, was $29,326 in 2010.

In short, it's basically impossible for at least 50% of Americans to make ends meet in a one-income family. And because of the Great Recession, all too many families have become one-income families and are one paycheck away from losing everything. And that's not counting the one-income families where the income earner lost his job -- those families are already out on the streets homeless, or shacked up with relatives, or otherwise living under conditions of dire hardship.

Now, if income were normally distributed -- that is, if the average American made the average income -- the average American would be making $39,959 per year. That's a far cry from $26,364! That amount of money -- $13,595 -- is basically what the top 1% are stealing from the average American worker via claiming ownership of the wealth produced by hard-working Americans, without whom the 1% would have a tiny fraction of their current wealth because they can, at best, produce only 1% of the goods and services of the nation with their own two hands. There is no way that this is sustainable in a democracy. You're going to see continued unrest like the Occupy movement because the situation for over 50% of American workers is simply unsustainable, they work and work and work and the result is poverty while the 1% rejoice in their millions? Something's broken, and if it doesn't get fixed, nothing good will happen. That much I can guarantee.

-- Badtux the Numbers Penguin


  1. No wonder I feel like I'm drowning. I'm trying to live on $674 a month, $8088 a year. The government considers that to be enough for a person who is disabled. They dragged out my case for so long and then moved my date of disability so that I was no longer eligible for SS and have to settle for SSI.

    I have two roommates, my rent is $475 and Nevada is graciously letting me have $188 in food stamps. Between car insurance and utilities (no cable and my roommate put in a 3MB DSL line for me last week because she felt sorry for me), I have very little left over.

    Then SS screwed me and I didn't make $674 for the last three months ($362, $445, and $562). I thought I was going to have a stroke on Friday when they explained to me that yes, they have the right to penalize me if I somehow make more than $674, but they are not required and are not going to make up the underpayments for the last three months. I said some really unkind things as I left the office.

    My landlady (the best one in the world!) had let me slide because we both thought that SS would eventually pay me the money. So, on Monday my car goes to Pick n' Pull and that will leave me only owing her $200.

    On the bright side now I won't have to pay car insurance. The VA is trying to get me a non service connected disability pension, $985 a month, but that can take up to a year.

    What I can't figure out is why I was in such a hurry to grow up. Ah, to be 16 again, when the rent was always paid and the fridge was always full. :)

  2. This is the basic problem that keeps the U.S. economy in the basement. After payments to corporations for cars, fuel, electricity, gas, student loans, rent or mortgage and insurance companies there is almost nothing left.

    Get divorced, get ill, get any kind of criminal record, have a minor disability and you end up with bills that you can never repay. Yet we are forced to grovel for jobs or we're thrown out into the streets.

    Occupy doesn't have momentum; we're being pushed.

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  5. But Purple, doesn't organizing in the workplace detract from the Sacred Libertarian Rights of the Job-Creators to fire anyone who demands anything more than the Owners of Property are prepared to pay?!? Because if the evil government declares that it's illegal to fire your whole workforce as punishment, that's Statist Power at the Barrel of a Gun!

    Seriously, though, I'm wondering if the American sheep-force has been conditioned enough by 30 years of post-Reagan propaganda to accept the fact that they're gonna get royally fucked, so they might as well get accustomed to living on Chinese slave labour wages. I get the impression from talking to friends still back in the U.S. that they can't envision anything more than a never-ending series of shit sandwiches. They expect the world to be that way, so they're not going to rise up and do anything about it.

  6. "I get the impression from talking to friends still back in the U.S. that they can't envision anything more than a never-ending series of shit sandwiches. They expect the world to be that way, so they're not going to rise up and do anything about it."_Bukko

    It's not that bad. Every other year they give us a choice between hard shit and soft shit in computer-rigged elections.

  7. I tried to organize the newspaper I worked at when I was in school. Alas, it was in the South. Blacks on the staff were down with it, but the rednecks in the press room ratted us out to management.

  8. Effective unions were effectively outlawed by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which was passed by a Republican Congress over President Truman's veto. This act basically outlaws effective strikes against corporations, effective strikes being where all unions go on strike against that corporation at once -- including unions at other workplaces. This is a blatant violation of both the 1st and 13th Amendments but for some reason the AFL-CIO never litigated this even during eras when there was a liberal Supreme Court that might have ruled in their favor.

    But that's a subject for another post...

    Bukko, regarding shit sandwiches, it's that old frog theory. The slow degradation of American workers has been so slow that many younger American workers can't ever remember a time when things were better for those who work for a living (as vs. "manage" for a living, i.e., push paper around and pretend this actually generates wealth). But it's getting faster now, and the pot is about to boil over...

    - Badtux the Labor Penguin

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  10. When I tell younger people that I can remember a time, the 70's, when there were effectively no homeless people in San Francisco and a ten year old kid could ride safely around on a bicycle they don't believe me.

    It's simply unthinkable to them that the U.S. could, or would have housed everybody who wanted and needed housing. I don't think that even those adults older than me can manage to recall that. Not most of them anyway.

  11. Pangolin
    Even in the 60's not seeing homeless depended on where you were. In LA most of the suburbs had almost no visible homeless. But around downtown and they were there, visible every day. They were still there in the nineties when I left. But now you see homeless daily in places that even 5 years ago I would never see them.
    On a second note, what makes it more dangerous for a 10 year old to ride on a bike? Cars? Crime? I ride regularly, just like I did 50 years ago and don't feel and less safe. Don't feel safer either, BTW.

  12. This is not to say that there weren't drunks, addicts, true transients or people who hung out on the streets. It's just that if they could get down to the housing office they would have been given a section 8 voucher that was good for an, admittedly squalid, room in a single-room occupancy hotel.

    There simply weren't any reasonably sober, reasonably sane people wandering around on the streets without housing because there was simply no housing available to them: homeless.

    My father worked in San Francisco City Hall and my mother worked across the street. I was in downtown San Francisco a lot in my youth and never felt threatened by an adult I didn't know.

  13. A lot of the increase in the visibly homeless is related to a shift in how we care for the mentally ill. Unfortunately, a shift that hasn't worked out for many.

    There are also a lot of people who are homeless who don't look it. They have enough resources to look presentable but maybe are living in their cars or whatnot.


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