Sunday, April 29, 2012

Study: Increased Productivity Benefits Wealthy As Labor Pay Stagnates

As the wealthy prosper, so should the rest of us–if one believes in "trickle down" economics. Lawrence Mishel (left), president of the Economic Policy Institute, published a report in which he found that both productivity and capital income are up–but that labor income has not kept pace. Unlike earlier decades, the increased productivity disproportionately benefits the top one percent. Pointing this out, of course, is called "class warfare" in certain quarters. Regardless, this shift of income from the middle to the top reflects the reality of income inequality. Excerpts from Mishel's study:

Income inequality has grown over the last 30 years or more driven by three dynamics: rising inequality of labor income (wages and compensation), rising inequality of capital income, and an increasing share of income going to capital income rather than labor income. As a consequence, examining market-based incomes one finds that “the top 1 percent of households have secured a very large share of all of the gains in income—59.9 percent of the gains from 1979–2007, while the top 0.1 percent seized an even more disproportionate share: 36 percent. In comparison, only 8.6 percent of income gains have gone to the bottom 90 percent” (Mishel and Bivens 2011).

A key to understanding this growth of income inequality—and the disappointing increases in workers’ wages and compensation and middle-class incomes—is understanding the divergence of pay and productivity. Productivity growth has risen substantially over the last few decades but the hourly compensation of the typical worker has seen much more modest growth, especially in the last 10 years or so. The gap between productivity and the compensation growth for the typical worker has been larger in the “lost decade” since the early 2000s than at any point in the post-World War II period. In contrast, productivity and the compensation of the typical worker grew in tandem over the early postwar period until the 1970s.

Productivity growth, which is the growth of the output of goods and services per hour worked, provides the basis for the growth of living standards. However, the experience of the vast majority of workers in recent decades has been that productivity growth actually provides only the potential for rising living standards: Recent history, especially since 2000, has shown that wages and compensation for the typical worker and income growth for the typical family have lagged tremendously behind the nation’s fast productivity growth.

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