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Eye-popping wage report charts 40 years of worsening income inequality as the top 1% thrive

The data shows a steady trickle-up effect in worker income.

Eye-popping wage report charts 40 years of worsening income inequality as the top 1% thrive
[Photo: Sahand Hoseini/Unsplash]

Wage inequality is getting worse, according to new data from the Social Security Administration, which shows a steady trickle-up effect in worker income during every period for the last four decades.

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That’s happening as wages for the bottom 90% of earners are being “continuously redistributed upward” to the top 10%, and often even further to the top 1% and 0.1%, reports the Economic Policy Institute, which analyzed the data. Since the year 1979, while wages for the bottom 90% saw a modest growth of 26%, wages for the top 10% grew between 51.8% to 75.1%.

But more eye-poppingly, the top 1% of earners are now paid 160.3% more than they were back then, and the tippy-top 0.1% bring home a whopping 345.2% more. That gives today’s bourgeoisie six times, and 13 times the growth of wages for the proletariat masses, respectively.

This gradual widening of the wage gap has persisted throughout every major period, including the most recent decade from 2009 to 2019. That time, which also included the economic recovery after 2008’s Great Recession, saw wages for the bottom 90% rise 8.7% while wages for the top 1% and 0.1% soared 20.4% and 30.3% respectively.

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As Economic Policy Institute fellow Lawrence Mishel tells USA Today, this slanted pay has been enabled partly by outsized gains made by financial executives whose compensation is tied to stock prices, and partly by outdated rules governing overtime pay and the misclassification of full-time employees as contractors, which serve to cap income for blue-collar and white-collar workers alike.

“It’s a clear story of disempowerment of workers,” he told USA Today.

The next chapter in that story may well be told by data from 2020, which has yet to be compiled and charted. This year in particular has refocused the spotlight on wealth inequality after the coronavirus pandemic upended the economy, and many have raised eyebrows as glass-office executives of struggling corporations continue collecting six-figure bonuses while laying off thousands of lower-bracket workers.

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