Just how far has the working class been left behind by the winner-take-all economy? A new analysis by the RAND Corporation examines what rising inequality has cost Americans in lost income—and the results are stunning.
A full-time worker whose taxable income is at the median—with half the population making more and half making less—now pulls in about $50,000 a year. Yet had the fruits of the nation’s economic output been shared over the past 45 years as broadly as they were from the end of World War II until the early 1970s, that worker would instead be making $92,000 to $102,000. (The exact figures vary slightly depending on how inflation is calculated.)
They say the blame lies, in large measure, with decades of failed federal policy decisions—allowing the minimum wage to deteriorate, overtime coverage to dwindle, and the effectiveness of labor law to decline, undermining union power. They also cite a shift in corporate culture that has elevated the interests of shareholders over those of workers, an ethos that took root 50 years ago this week with the publication of an essay by University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman.
Many of these developments, Rolf points out, have been driven by the belief that an unfettered free market would generate wealth for everyone. Thanks to the RAND study, he says, “we now have the proof that this theory was wrong.”