Inequality: Real and growing

By Victor Perlo, in People's Weekly World,
2 September, 1995

Right-wing propagandists have taken on the task of "proving" that the studies about growing inequality -- about the rich getting richer and the poor poorer -- are so much hokum. They would have us believe that the "middle class" is growing, and the poor are almost flourishing because of "excessive" spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and too much money going for food stamps for hungry children and prenatal care for unwed mothers.

I've been asked about all this. My answer is this column. My calculations are all in constant 1993 dollars and my sources are government publications, primarily reports published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The trends I describe began when the Republicans were in control of the White House. They stayed there for 20 of the last 25 years and made sure that all government agencies were run by right-wing administrators. So if there is bias it is their bias -- a bias meant to make things look better than they are. But even with that, the truth can't be hidden.

Consider family income. Each year the Census Bureau calculates the percentage of families making over $100,000 a year which, broadly defined, is "rich."

In the late 1960s, about 2.3 percent of all families had incomes equal to $100,000 or more. By the 1990s the number was 6.9 percent. That means the proportion of rich families tripled in 25 years. If we go up a couple of more rungs on the income ladder, IRS figures reveal that the number of people making more than a million dollars a year multiplied more than 12 times over the same period.

But what about the other end of the income scale -- poor families, with annual incomes under $5,000? They also increased -- from 2.8 percent of all families in the late 1960s to 3.4 percent in the early 1990s.

True, the categories of families measured by family income have changed. But the increases have been in two categories -- families with yearly incomes at or above $75,000 and those at or below $15,000. On the other hand, there have been sharp decreases in the proportion of families with incomes in the $25,000 to $50,000 range. These are the middle income group of working families who are being squeezed out of their "middle class" standard of living by big business cuts in decent-paying jobs.

These trends apply to all racial groups, with one important difference: in 1993 some 8.5 percent of white families were making over $100,000 and 2.1 percent were at $5,000 and under. Among Black families, 2.4 percent were in that upper group, and 10.7 percent at the bottom. For Latino families, 2.4 percent were in the richest and 5.8 percent in the poorest.

One more statistic -- one that measures the impact the anti-labor offensive of the last 25 years has had on the real incomes.

Since the 1973 peak in real wages, the median income of all males has declined 19.5 percent -- for white males 17 percent. On the whole, the losses of minority males were sharper. The hardest hit were what the Census Bureau calls "Hispanic" males whose median wages declined by a disastrous 32.2 percent.

My question: if the decline in the income of white males is the result of "reverse discrimination," why are the wages of minority males falling even faster? My answer: because affirmative action programs have not been enough to prevent -- or even seriously reduce -- racial disparities in incomes.

The losses of white males, as with all other workers, are due to increased exploitation by the rich -- mostly white and most of them male -- who own and control the means of producing the nation's wealth and who use that control to enhance their fortunes and their political power.

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