Thomas Sowell

Those for whom indignation is a way of life often inform us of the fact that families or households in the top 10 or 20 percent in income make far more money than people in the bottom 10 or 20 percent in income. What they almost never inform us of are how much money they are talking about and how many people in these different brackets actually work.

These omissions are neither incidental nor accidental. If the full facts were brought out, those facts would completely undermine the picture presented by the envy zealots or, as they prefer to be called, advocates of "social justice."

Despite the looseness with which the term "rich" is thrown around -- as in "tax cuts for the rich" -- most people to whom that term is sweepingly applied are far from being rich. First of all, whether you are rich or not depends on your wealth, not your income, but the statistics used by the envy zealots are almost always income statistics.

These are also usually statistics about family income or household income, which can be very misleading, because families and households differ substantially in size -- and where there are more people making money, they usually make more money.

While there are more than 19 million people working in households with incomes in the top 20 percent, there are fewer than 8 million people working in households in the bottom 20 percent. How much of an injustice is it that people who work get more money than people who don't work?

If you are talking about working full-time, 50 or more weeks a year, then there are more people doing that in the top 5 percent of households than in the bottom 20 percent. As Casey Stengel used to say, you can look it up. These are Census data, available on-line from the Current Population Survey, Table HINC-06.

It may not be a breakthrough on the frontiers of economics to say that work pays, but it does. Among households in the bottom 20 percent in income, there are more than 13 million people who do not work at all and fewer than 8 million who do work, counting both full time and part time workers.

How do people live without working? Millions in the bottom 20 percent live on the money earned by other people who do work and whose income gets taxed to pay for the non-workers. In addition, more than 4 million families in the bottom fifth in income live on property income and nearly 6 million live on various forms of retirement income, including Social Security. (Table FINC-06, for those who demand proof only from those they disagree with.)


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate