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July 24, 2007


Why do you cite statistics for the lowest quintile of households with children rather than statistics for the lowest quintile of households?

Those are the same statistics Brooks uses -- see the Haskins op-ed. I've clarified this slightly above.

Hmmm...An alternate "glass is half-full" look at things:

1. A look at the historical data leads one to conclude that all households should be striving to get out of the lowest, second, middle and fourth quintile and into the highest quintile.

Capitalism and limited/minimal government provides the highest probability for someone that is so inclined to achieve that goal. In other words, Income Mobility is alive and well.

2. Figure 8 (page 8) of the cited report notes that female headed households with children had lower income when compared with all households during the same period between 2001 to 2003.

Conclusion: Don't have children outside of a marriage or stay married.

3. An argument can be made that illegal immigration has hurt the lowest quintiles the most because lower-skilled jobs compensation rates stay depressed with an ever increasing supply of cheap illegal labor.

"In other words, Income Mobility is alive and well."

In Europe. In the USA, not so much.

Particularly in a column purporting to rebut the notion that CEOs are seeing their salaries skyrocket while middle-class workers are getting squeezed, isn't it misleading to cite a raise in *average* wage as purported evidence to the contrary? Wouldn't a look at the *median* wage be much more illustrative?

To wit, in a hypothetical scenario where Worker A, Worker B and Bill Gates comprise the wage pool, and Worker A and Worker B go without a single penny's worth of wage increase while Bill Gates rakes in a $1B raise, average wages will have gone up $333M dollars, while median wages will have stood utterly stagnant. The former stat, average wage (which is what Brooks uses), would be what you'd use if you wanted to try to depict this inequitable scenario as some sort of robust economy that is benefitting all. The latter stat, median wage (which is what Brooks doesn't use), would be what you'd use if you wanted to accurately depict what the scenario clearly describes: C.E.O.’s seeing their incomes skyrocket while the middle class gets squeezed.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

US Census Bureau income statistics give a good picture of what has been going on in the recent years. In table A3 (page 40), you can see how the shares of household income have changed. For example, the lowest quintile share of income was 4.2% in year 1980 (before Reagan), 3.6% in 2000 (before GWB) and 3.4% in 2005. The highest quintile share was 44.1% in 1980, 49.8% in 2000 and 50.4% in 2005.

The ratio of 95% lower limit to the median income has gone up all the time. For instance , in 1980 the ratio (calulated from the table A-3) was 2.68, in 2000 3.46, in 2004 3.54, and in 2005 3.58.

Well, maybe the US Census Bureau has a liberal bias, like just like the media :-)

A typo: the ratio in 1980 should be 2.86 instead of 2.68.

Superb job, thank you for your research on this.

You don't really refute Brooks' main point; you just try to spin it differently. Putting aside that "hourly wage" is far less relevant than total earnings, it's true that the growth in these wages hasn't been great. But it has been growth. This is real growth, not nominal growth. So it's a positive thing, not a negative one.

Why is that "doing very little"?

It's also misleading to talk about quintiles over time, since they aren't the same people. You can't ignore immigration and then talk about the performance of the lowest quintile.

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