Sunday, September 21, 2008

As Galileo Said, "It Moves"

Income, I mean. I've written before on the fallacious fears of a supposedly declining middle class, the rich, says lefties, getting richer at the expense of the poor, and America's assertedly declining "income mobility". The claimed "trend to inequality" is nonsense, as confirmed by Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore in Monday's Wall Street Journal:
The new Census Bureau data on income and poverty reveal that many of the economic trends in this country are a lot more favorable than America's detractors seems to think. In 2007, overall real median family income increased to $50,233, up $600 from 2006. The real median income for intact families -- mother and father in the home -- rose to $78,000, an all-time high.

Although incomes fell sharply in the U.S. after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 (and still haven't fully recovered), these latest statistics reflect a 25-year trend of upward economic mobility. More important, Barack Obama is wrong when he states on his campaign Web site that the economic policies started by Ronald Reagan have rewarded "wealth not work." Based on this false claim -- that the rich have benefited by economic growth while others have not -- he intends to raise tax rates on high-income individuals.

To be sure, there has been a massive amount of wealth created in America over the last 25 years. But tax rates were cut dramatically across the income spectrum, for rich and poor alike. The results?

When all sources of income are included -- wages, salaries, realized capital gains, dividends, business income and government benefits -- and taxes paid are deducted, households in the lowest income quintile saw a roughly 25% increase in their living standards from 1983 to 2005. (See chart nearby; the data is from the Congressional Budget Office's "Comprehensive Household Income.") This fact alone refutes the notion that the poor are getting poorer. They are not. . .

source: WSJ

Official tax return data show that in 1983, 19% of returns had zero tax liability; that percentage has climbed steadily, reaching 33% in 2005. (The Tax Policy Center estimates that in 2008 nearly 40% of filers will have no income tax liability.) Thus, we are now statistically counting more poorer families today than we used to. This is a major reason that median and poor household income gains appear to be a lot smaller than they have been in reality. . .

One way to quantify income mobility is to examine how many people remain in the same tax bracket over time. We compared the returns of tax filers in the lowest tax rate bracket (zero) in 1987 with their returns in 1996. Only one third of the tax filers were still in the zero tax bracket, but 25% were now in the 10% bracket, 32% had moved up to the 15% bracket and 9% were in the 25%, 28%, 33% or 35% brackets. And that was following them for a decade, not a generation.

From 1996 to 2005, we have the income mobility data for income quintiles. Of those filers who were in the lowest 20% in 1996 and who also filed in 2005, 42.4% remained in the bottom 20%, 28.6% were in the next highest quintile, 13.9% were in the middle quintile, 9.9% were in the second highest quintile, and 5.3% were in the highest quintile.

What is also striking about the data is that the poor today are, in general, not the same people who were poor even a few years ago. For example, the new Census data find that only 3% of Americans are "chronically" poor, which the Census Bureau defines as being in poverty for three years or more. Many of the people in the bottom quintile of income earners in any one year are new entrants to the labor force or those who are leaving the labor force.
The article also details how those claiming lower incomes and equality have distorted the data--especially by ignoring the effect of taxes--a point I've also made. Read the whole thing.

(via Carpe Diem)

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