"... Using this more sophisticated cost-of-living adjustment, which is preferred by the Congressional Budget Office and Federal Reserve Board, the increase in median household income was not 5 percent but 16 percent from 1979 to 2012. In 2007, like 1979 a peak in the business cycle, median income as defined by the Census Bureau was 25 percent higher than in 1979.
Similarly, the official Census Bureau figures indicate that the household at the 20th percentile of income—poorer than 80 percent of households and richer than only 20 percent of them—was no better off in 2012 than in 1979. Switching to the better cost-of-living adjustment, however, shows a 10 percent improvement—and a 19 percent improvement comparing the 1979 peak to the 2007 peak.
The Census Bureau narrowly defines income to exclude the non-cash benefits that constitute an important part of the safety net, as well as employer-provided fringe benefits. That means it assumes that food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and employer-provided health insurance have no value to families trying to pay their bills and live more comfortably. For that matter, it considers income before taxes are deducted, missing any increase in disposable income that declining taxes may have yielded.
From 1979 to 2007, median pre-tax income defined to include non-cash benefits rose by about 30 percent. I find about the same increase for median post-tax income, but my estimates do not account for tax credits. The Congressional Budget Office reports a 33 percent increase in pre-tax income and a 42 percent increase in post-tax income. At the 20th percentile, pre-tax income rose by 26 to 38 percent, depending on how Medicare and Medicaid are valued. The truth is almost surely somewhere in the middle. The post-tax increase was similar.
Finally, the Census Bureau figures do not account for the fact that households have become smaller over time. When households have fewer mouths to feed, a given amount of income goes a longer way, so even if incomes had not grown, Americans would have been better off.
After adjusting for household size, median pre-tax income was about 40 percent higher in 2007 than in 1979, and according to CBO, post-tax income was 49 percent higher. At the 20th percentile, size-adjusted household income rose by 28 to 46 percent (with the health insurance valuation much more consequential than the inclusion of taxes).
These are sizable gains over time—just not as large as those experienced in the “Golden Age” of the 1950s and 1960s or as substantial as those seen at the top of the income distribution. ...
I want to study this report a little more.
... A more effective way to help those in need is for policymakers to work on improving programs that have a track record of success, such as the earned income tax credit (EITC). The EITC has proven to be very effective at moving Americans from out of work to having a job. The EITC is also more effective at targeting those in poor households because it is based on income and not just wages. In the end, the EITC benefits 56.1 percent of workers in poverty.
A strong social safety net is one of the most important things a nation can provide its people, but an increase in the minimum wage should not be part of the strategy. Redistributing income from those who need it the most--the job seekers--to those who need it the least-- job holders in high income households expands the income divide and is a counterproductive anti-poverty policy.
... It’s important to highlight the plight of the working poor. At a time when food stamps are being cut and some on the right attempt to argue against the basic idea of a safety net it is useful to show what actual need looks like in this country, and that many who work hard still encounter real economic hardship. So by all means, let’s talk about increasing the EITC, making a better and more robust safety net, and ways to improve the welfare of low-income people in this country. But let’s not pretend that a huge percentage of the context in which this story is being discussed isn’t that it is Walmart’s duty to raise the wages above the current market level. I’m happy to talk about economic hardship and things to do about it, but let’s not ignore the conversation most people are actually having and the bad ideas actually being proposed.
... The final argument is his attempt to get at what the liberal case for higher minimum wages is at it’s core: it’s about opposing the idea that wages are determined by prices.
In short, what the living wage is really about is not living standards, or even economics, but morality. Its advocates are basically opposed to the idea that wages are a market price–determined by supply and demand, the same as the price of apples or coal. And it is for that reason, rather than the practical details, that the broader political movement of which the demand for a living wage is the leading edge is ultimately doomed to failure: For the amorality of the market economy is part of its essence, and cannot be legislated away.
I think Krugman’s points on the minimum wage are still very applicable despite being published way back in 1998.
I can’t open the paper these days without stumbling onto something about the minimum wage, which I take to be a good thing as it’s a simple, popular way to help address the problem of very low-wage work in America. It’s not a complete solution; it’s not the only solution — it is, in fact, a relatively small-bore policy that sets an important labor standard: the government will compensate for the severe lack of bargaining clout among our lowest-wage workers by setting a floor below which we won’t allow their wages to fall.
It’s also that case that we need to look carefully these days at any policies that will help offset income inequality and wage stagnation, especially ones with low budgetary costs, or in this case, virtually none. That’s one reason that I expect President Obama to amplify these points in an economics speech on Wednesday in Washington. ...
... Thus we can conclude that at least part of the problem with the low-wage labor market is the quality of the jobs, at least from the perspective of compensation, not the quality of the workers. Sure, soft skills — showing up on time, dealing maturely with peers — are as important as ever, but people with shortcomings in those areas show up in all sectors. Typical low-wage workers don’t lack the skills to do their jobs. They lack the bargaining power to be paid decently for the work. Relative to most others in the job market, they’re least able to press for a share of the profits they’re helping to generate.
When you think of it this way, a lot of the cramped economic debate opens up. Since workers are not really paid their precise marginal product, you wouldn’t expect them to be laid off because of a moderate, mandated wage increase. In periods of high profitability, you’d expect some of the wage increase to be paid for out of profits. In a real-world context, you’d want a policy taking direct aim at deteriorated job quality and thus helping to offset the acute lack of bargaining clout among low-wage workers.
Does that mean completely ignoring the “laws” of supply and demand and setting the minimum at any level we want? Of course not. Workers may not be paid their “marginal product,” but there is some rough correlation between their pay and the value of their work (the great labor economist Richard Freeman gets at this by using the flat edge of the chalk to draw demand curves). History teaches that moderate wage increases — say, those including not much more than 10 percent of the work force in their sweep — have nothing like the job-loss effects that opponents claim (which isn’t to say “zero,” but the beneficiaries far outnumber those hurt by the policy). ...
... Employers pay employees based on the worth of the employee, how much profit that person adds to the company’s bottom line. That amount has no connection at all to the cost of living or to any neutral observer’s idea of what a “fair” wage might be. A business has no reason to care or to know how much money you need (or think you need) to live the life you have chosen to live. Businesses care about what each employee does for them.
An employer may choose to pay a higher-than-market wage for a variety of reasons, but those reasons do not include charity. Some companies (including some retailers such as Costco) follow the efficiency wage hypothesis, positing that paying a higher than normal wage will induce the employee to work extra hard and be very loyal to that employer. This is perfectly rational economics if the hypothesis proves true. Companies are still only paying for what they receive; they have simply found a way to get more profit per employee by paying them higher wages. Other firms may pay more, or provide better benefits, to reduce employee turnover, which can be very costly to the company. Many tech firms are examples of both these behaviors.
The two most recent welfare reforms in this country, in 1975 and in 1996, have both tried to engineer a system of complementary social safety net features and incentives to work. In both cases, the welfare system was judged to have become too skewed toward the safety net and to actively be discouraging people from working. For example, in the 1990s a single mother of two would have needed a job paying well over $20,000 before it would have made economic sense to leave welfare and start working. Simply losing her Medicaid eligibility would have cost her around $10,000 per year even back then. People were being penalized for working. Most people will not work if it makes them poorer.
The point of the current system is to encourage people to work by not making them ineligible for benefits simply by virtue of being employed. Thus, having workers at retail stores or fast food restaurants who also qualify for public assistance is not a reason to condemn those employers, but instead one to praise the politicians and public policy experts who redesigned the welfare system. ...
... Among all children living only with their mother, nearly half — or 45% — live below the poverty line, the Census Bureau said. For those living with just the father, about 21% lived in poverty. By comparison, only about 13% of children with both parents present in the household live below the poverty line. ...
... But since I clearly can’t help myself, I will make a prediction. When tax reform does come, and whatever it means whenit gets here, U.S. multinationals will pay a price. Now, I’m no communist; in fact, I’m a practicing capitalist, but the multinationals sort of deserve what’s coming, because they’re sort of pigs. They have been working the U.S. tax system for years – just like they have been working tax systems around the world. They have managed to build up quite an arsenal of weapons to help themselves – things like transfer pricing, check-the-box, tax havens, deferral, just to name a few. All these weapons are legal. The system seems rigged their way. ...
The Alexandria, Va.-based network of more than 1,000 separate units largely dependent on paycheck deductions received $3.9 billion in gifts for the year ending December 31, 2012, $24 million more than the previous year. In a difficult economic environment, that represented a 0.6% increase.
No. 2 again is the Salvation Army , a church better known for its social services efforts whose U.S. headquarters also is in Alexandria. Its donations rose 11% to $1.9 billion, more than making up for a 6% fall from the previous year.
A list newcomer comes in at No. 3, Task Force for Global Health, which is based in Decatur, Ga. To implement its health activities in 50 countries, including the U.S., the charity brought in $1.7 billion, most of it donated medicines.
Rounding out the billion-dollar-donation club: Feeding America at $1.5 billion and Catholic Charities USA at $1.4 billion. Feeding America, a Chicago-based supplier of of food banks, saw its incoming gifts, mainly donated food, rise a whopping 33%, in contrast to a 10% donation drop at Catholic Charities, which directs its efforts toward fighting poverty. ...