The Census Bureau’s annual report on income is out, and “there’s no good news” in it, said Felix Salmon in Reuters, unless you’re “the kind of person who worries about inflation.” Median household income has fallen 3.6 percent, from $52,153 in 2007 to $50,303 in 2008—a loss of “real money.” And 2.5 million more people are living in poverty, including 19 percent of kids under 18. That’s “unconscionable, in the richest country in the world.”
The “big news” from the Census report isn’t the drop in income since 2007, said David Leonhardt in The New York Times. It’s that we’re earning less than a decade ago—median household income in 1998 was $51,295, in today’s dollars. There hasn’t been such a lost decade in 40 years of Census tracking, and probably not since the 1930s. “What’s going on here?” Very slow growth, and the fact that “much of the bounty from our growth” has gone to the very rich.
That’s true—the wealthiest one-tenth of a percent earned $2 million more last year than in 1999, said Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. But things also look “a little bit better” for the rest of us if you count as income our employer health benefits. In that case, median income is up 1 percent over 1999. That’s “nothing to write home about,” but it’s something.
Well, “you’ve got to figure 2009 will see another decline in income,” said Justin Fox in Time. So however you slice it, “we’re not just treading water. We’re going backwards.” But going backwards “always happens during recessions.” In fact, almost all our income growth since 1967 has come in “brief spurts of forward progress.” We could sure use one of those spurts about now.