Over the past 25 years some types of Americans have become richer and richer, at the expense of others who have become poorer and poorer – to the point where average life expectancy is starting to fall. One might have imagined that at some point those who have been taking more and more would conclude that enough is enough, feel obligated to do more in return, and become concerned about the circumstances of others who are less well off. But that doesn’t seem to happen. Not among the richest generations in U.S. history, those born from 1930 to 1957, who continue to be completely focused on increasing their own share of the take. Not among the richest people, the top executives who sit on each other’s boards and vote each other higher and higher pay. And who anointed themselves “the makers” and everyone else “the takers” within two years of having been bailed out by the federal government, even as “the takers” saw their standard of living plunge, and then demanded another round of tax cuts that mostly benefit themselves.
And not among New York’s unionized public employees, particularly those working in its public schools, who have become the most politically powerful – and selfish – of all self-interest groups at the state and local level here. Power and selfishness seem to go together in part because no one dares to offend the powerful, by pointing out how much they have taken relative to everyone else, and the connection between others having less and them taking more. So they can continue to feel aggrieved, entitled, resentful, unobligated – and somehow demand even more without embarrassment. There seems to be no end to it. This post uses Census Bureau data to show how far it had gone, as of three years ago.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) data was released a couple of weeks ago, and I’m surprised how little coverage of its findings there has been in the media. Most of what I have read, moreover, compared 2015 with 2014, or with 2010, and finds that the economy is getting much better for many Americans.
That, however, is not a meaningful comparison if one is looking to the long term, or trying to explain why so many Americans feel so much worse off. One would expect that people would become better off in the recovery from a deep recession, or worse off in the aftermath of the peak of a bubble. Politicians, seeking to make points for their sides, often base their talking points on data from such non-comparable years, but that is disingenuous. As it happens, there are enough economic similarities between the first year of American Community Survey data, in 2005, and the latest year, 2015, to make a comparison between them meaningful. What follows is a discussion, with 26 charts, of the economic trends I found most interesting from that comparison – for the United States, New York City, and New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut. Let’s take a break from the fantasy and deception of politics and look at some reality.
All of the many available measures of employment show a stunning increase in the number of people working in New York City during the past 15 years, far reversing all the jobs lost in the 1970s. One of the least cited measures is employment based on the now-defunct Census of Population long form and American Community Survey, which among other things ask workers where they work. This data is generally tabulated based on where people live, but when tabulated by place of work it is the most accurate measure of employment at the local level. Administrative records and surveys of organizations often place the employment for multiple establishments at a single location, either the headquarters or even an accountant’s office. Government agencies are particularly bad at reporting where their employees are. And most measures of private sector employment only include wage and salary employees, whereas a rising share of the workforce is self-employed – particularly in New York City.
Place of work data from surveys of households, as reported by the workers themselves, shows that the number working in New York City fell from more than 3.5 million in 1970 to slightly over 3.3 million in 1980. After increasing by more than 410,000 during the 1980s, to more than 3.7 million in 1990, the number of people working in the city increased little during the 1990s, as the deep early 1990s recession nearly offset the substantial late 1990s boom. By 2010, however, the number of people working in New York City had soared to 4.25 million, an increase of nearly 500,000 since 2000, and it has likely continued to soar since.
The 1970s were a devastating decade for New York City. The middle class and employers fled, leaving the old, poor, unemployed and troubled behind. The city lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and nearly a million people. Today, however, the population has soared. Cranes dot the skyline as tens of thousands of housing units are under construction to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people trying to more here. Total private employment, for which the 1969 peak was a seemingly insurmountable barrier for decades, has soared past that level to previously unimaginable heights. Self-employment has soared even more. And with suburban housing increasingly occupied by retired empty nesters rather than young workers, more of those jobs are held by city residents, and the city’s employment-population ratio is at an all time high. The only problem, it seems, is that real estate values are soaring as a result of gentrification, and the poor are being pushed out of the city.
To find out to what extent, I took a spreadsheet I had produced years ago, with decennial Census of Population data on poverty in 1969, 1979, and 1989, and added 2014 American Community Survey data to it. And then compared data for 1979, near the city’s low ebb, with data for 2014, the most recent year available. I found that the number of non-poor people (for whom poverty status could be determined) had increased by over 1 million (18.6%) over 35 years. And the number of poor people, rather than decreasing or staying the same, has increased by more than 350,000 or 25.5%. An even faster gain. Are you surprised? I am.
American families are grappling with stagnant wage growth, as the costs of health care, education, and housing continue to climb. But for many of America’s younger workers, “stagnant” wages shouldn’t sound so bad. In fact, they might sound like a massive raise. Since the Great Recession struck in 2007, the median wage for people between the ages of 25 and 34, adjusted for inflation, has fallen in every major industry except for health care.
What this analysis fails to account for is the difference between a cyclical trend – many people became worse off as the result of the recession – and a long term structural trend. One would expect incomes to fall behind inflation in a recession as severe as the one we just had – and then rise after a few years of recovery. In reality, however, the trend of later generations earning less than those who came before had earned when they themselves were young – indeed at every age – goes beyond the recession. In fact is has been going on for decades, starting with the second half of the baby boom. Each trough is lower, each peak not as high. Continue reading →
The 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey was been rolling out over the last few weeks, and I’m disappointed there hasn’t been more coverage. The Bureau typically releases reports with the data, but these focus on national trends and perhaps static state and large area rankings. Other data users include special interests, which like to quote the data selectively in their own interest. Some of the most powerful interests, based on the position of those who pander to them by proposing to eliminate the American Community survey, would apparently prefer to just do away with objective facts about the American economy and society altogether.
Public knowledge about our society and economy could then be limited to what is screamed by the loudest voices, which in a media age would be those who already have the most money to pay for advertizing and flacks of various kinds. While the internet age promised far more widespread access to objective information, it seems most people can’t be bothered to use it. With this in mind, I’ve downloaded comparative ACS economic data for 2009 to 2013 for New York City, New York State, and the United States.