According to the BLS, wages and salaries have fallen from 72.6 percent of total compensation in 2000 to 70 percent in June of this year. At the same time, health benefits have risen from 5.9 percent of compensation to 7.7 percent.
Still another explanation is that the changing demographics of the population have eased the transition to an economy with slower wage growth. Many baby boomers have just seen the last of their children finish college and leave home. Suddenly, they have had a huge increase in their discretionary income, as the enormous costs of tuition and child care that they have borne for decades have now disappeared. They may not be any better off in terms of their family income, but they feel a lot better off financially.
Finally, despite wage and income stagnation at the macro level, people continue to move up out of the working class into the middle and upper classes. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of all households with an income below $25,000 per year (in 2005 dollars) fell to 27.1 percent last year, from 27.6 percent in 2004. In 1995, 28.9 percent fell into this income class. In 1985, the percentage was 30.5 percent. In 1975m it was 33.1 percent.
At the same time, the percentage of households that are considered well-to-do -- those with an income above $75,000 (in 2005 dollars) -- rose to 28.3 percent last year, from 27.9 percent in 2004. In 1995, only 24.4 percent of households had that much income, up from 20.2 percent in 1985 and 14 percent in 1975.
In short, despite all the talk about the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor, the fact is that the percentage of households with low incomes has fallen and the percentage of those with high incomes has risen. This is perhaps the main reason why Democrats have had trouble getting traction on the income issue -- there are fewer people in the income class to which they historically have directed their message.
The more people there are in the $75,000-plus income category, the more people there are who are receptive to the Republican message of low taxes.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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