Lindsay: Tracking the one percent
November 5th, 2011
09:16 AM ET

Lindsay: Tracking the one percent

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter

By James M. Lindsay

The Occupy Wall Street movement has made the phrase “the 99 percent” the hottest new political buzzword. So just how different has the experience of the top 1 percent been from everyone else’s over the past decade?

As the chart above shows, when it comes to real-income growth - that is, after accounting for the effects of inflation - the difference is substantial.

The three decades after 1979 were spectacularly good ones for the top 1 percent of wage earners, even with the 2000-2001 tech crash. In comparison, the bottom 80 percent of wage earners were only marginally better off in 2007 than they were in 1979 - and much of that gain was probably lost in the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crash.

Whether one is impressed by the gap between the top 1 percent and everyone else, or by the fact that the trend lines for everyone but the top 1 percent are relatively flat, the chart provides some indication of why so many Americans are pessimistic about the direction of the country, and have been for quite some time.

Topics: Economy • Protests

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Napoli

    Trickle down is trickling down and at trickle's pace.

    OWS certainly has a point, too many of them, in fact. The US and the economic powerhouses advertise freedom of commerce when in practice its only freedom of commerce as business owners dictate. Sounds like a Dictatorship of sorts. On man, one vote when in fact it is one dollar one vote. So who runs the show? Who is empowered to change things? Mr Obama? Certainly not! The voters who voted for him? Wrong again. Until one dollar one vote is abandoned nothing will change unless business owners want it. So while we, the 99% pretend to have freedoms "as advertised" nothing will change for our benefit until the greed is lost and the real good of the country is found. The US' success was based on hard work and honesty. Since neither are very popular at the top nor shall success. The high level of income reflected in these datum are a result of pilferage from the 99%, from lost jobs to pensions, to the price of oil.

    Good luck with that protest but I fear nothing will become of it until a real, honest war takes place. Not like the business conflicts that borrowed the term "war".

    November 5, 2011 at 9:54 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      You must be a fan of Benjamin Franklin – "The US' success was based on hard work and honesty".
      The top one percent personifies the American ethos. In theory every individual should be able to get ahead and gain some measure of success through hard work and talent within his or her own abilities. The ethos is that everyone who's determined to practise his or her virtues will find a place at the table. No one will be left out, unless he or she chooses it.

      November 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  2. Masterson, richard

    Greed. This time period is summed up in this one word. How much is enough? Corporations are typically paranoid and by nature of the company or its top officers, they can never have enough, as the current situation proves, that corporations are hoarding cash and not taking any risk at all. I have relatives that are in the 1 percent bracket. They are elderly, in their eighties. I asked a question – if you were to give yourselves a hundred thousand tax free dollars per year and have no debt, would this be enough? They thought about this a long time and choose to avoid the 'risk' of not having it all!
    I believe we, as a society, have lost the vision of the American Dream. We are all suffering in our own ways and have little room to make judgements on each other, but when we fear not having enough (even when we have more than we need) we have become a lost society.

    November 5, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply
  3. Hyperafro

    Isn't this the inherent outcome of moving from a blue collar nation to a white collar nation? As unions and government has leveraged more rights for the hourly worker, the more we have moved to the salary work to remove a level of that leverage. You have salary individuals work more and more hours to keep there job while there coworkers get laid off. As a result they end up picking up part of the burden of the laid off worker. I work for a large corporation, one of the largest consumer goods corporations in the world and they are pushing productivity. They tell us we need to improve our stock so we can grow but I look at what is asked of people five years ago to now and it's uncanny how much has changed. Our quarterly report was excellent and our stock price never moved and I'm not surprised. It's another excuse to squeeze all the workers to increase the earnings of the corporate heads and the share holder. The only thing I see coming is an international currency so the world will be one economy making the 1% the most powerful and removing any economic control of any government in the world.

    November 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Reply
    • Napoli

      Yup, It is so funny how they want the price of stock to magically increase at your expense....and give you stock options or employee stock ownership programs. They constantly increase shares outstanding effectively decrease the price of your hard earned shares. One BIG SMOKE Screen!

      November 6, 2011 at 7:34 am | Reply
  4. David

    My father’s idea…. a sale/lease back option for deficit reduction http://myfathersblog1.blogspot.com/2011_11_01_archive.html

    November 6, 2011 at 11:02 am | Reply
  5. james davidson

    FAREED is correct. The problem is the lack of social mobility. If everyone could move along as in the 60s and 70s we wouldn't be seeing these demonstrations. The danger lies in the future because this situation we are in now is not going to reverse itself for a very long time. I reckon that unrest will deepen and spread. Let's face it, we are on the downward side of the bell curve....... but the 1% aren't worried

    November 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  6. TP

    Why do these stories include incomplete charts? The chart says "US real average after-tax income". But it does not explain (a) if the income is household or individual, (b) does not show the basis of the "real" income – i.e. is this 1979 $ or 2011 $. Finally, why are they showing 'average" instead of "mean"? "Average" is severly distorted by a few outliers, particularly for the top 1% – think Bill Gates, Warrent Buffer being part of the sample.

    November 6, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Reply
    • Drew

      I think you mean "median" instead of "mean"

      November 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Reply

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