US

Rich ARE getting richer: Wages for the top one percent skyrocketed 160% since 1979

Rich ARE getting richer: Wages for the top one percent skyrocketed 160% since 1979 while the share of wages for the bottom 90% SHRANK

  • Study published last week analyzes US wages from 1979 to 2019 
  • Wages for the bottom 90% of earners were continuously redistributed upward
  • Top 1% saw their wages grow by 160% while bottom 90% grew by just 26%
  • Wages for the top 0.1% grew by a spectacular 345.2% for the period

Wage growth for the nation’s richest people has far outpaced average workers over the past 40 years, according to a new study.

In every period since 1979, wages for the bottom 90 percent were continuously redistributed upward to the top 10 percent — and frequently to the very highest 1 and 0.1 percent, according to a report last week from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think-tank.

The wage data comes from published Social Security Administration information on W-2 earnings, which include realized stock options and vested stock awards. 

The study shows that from 1979 to 2019, the top 1 percent saw their wages grow by 160 percent, adjusted for inflation, while those in the bottom 90 percent had annual wages grow by just 26 percent, shrinking their total share of income.

From 1979 to 2019, the top 1 percent saw their wages grow by 160 percent, adjusted for inflation, while those in the bottom 90 percent had annual wages grow by just 26 percent

Wage growth for the nation's richest people has far outpaced average workers over the past 40 years, according to a new study (stock image)

Wage growth for the nation’s richest people has far outpaced average workers over the past 40 years, according to a new study (stock image)

Wages for the top 0.1 percent grew more than twice as fast as those of the 1 percent, up a spectacular 345.2 percent.

The disparities in long-term wage growth reflect a major redistribution upward of wages over the past four decade. 

The bottom 90 percent earned 69.8 percent of all earnings in 1979 but only 60.9 percent in 2019.

In contrast, the top one percent nearly doubled its share of earnings, from 7.3 percent in 1979 to 13.2 percent in 2019. 

The growth of wages for the top 0.1 percent was the major driver, with that group more than tripling it share of all earnings, from 1.6 percent in 1979 to 5 percent in 2019.

The study also found that for the bottom 90 percent of earners, the vast majority of wage growth was concentrated in the two periods of sustained low unemployment representing 11 of the 40 years.

This table shows the inflation-adjusted average earnings of each group over time

This table shows the inflation-adjusted average earnings of each group over time

This table shows the share of total wages earned by each group over time

This table shows the share of total wages earned by each group over time

That group’s wage growth in the 1995–2000 and 2013–2019 periods represented 90 percent of all the wage growth over the 40 years. 

Though the study does not cover the period of time during the current coronavirus pandemic, there are plenty of indications that it has only exacerbated inequality. 

While millions lost their jobs, America’s billionaires saw their collective net worth increase by 29 percent during the first six months of the pandemic, according to a joint report from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, a politically liberal think-tank.

In dollar terms, no one gained more than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, who saw his net worth increase by $73.2 billion, to $186.2 billion, between March 18 and September 15. 

It comes during a period of historic economic and physical suffering for many Americans. 

Since March, nearly 69 million people have filed for unemployment. For the week ending November 21, at least 5.5 million were continuing to receive jobless benefits.

The total number of U.S. jobs remains about 10 million lower than it was prior to the pandemic, federal data shows. 

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