Much of what is said about the incomes of Americans is said to score points. For example, it has been repeated endlessly that the average American family's income has not increased significantly for decades and that real wages are actually going down, not up.
That is great stuff for scoring points. You can just imagine the words and the music: The economy is stagnating, the American Dream has become a nightmare, our best days are behind us, etc.
The fact that the conclusions are totally false has not cramped anyone's style. Best-selling authors reap the profits of doom by writing such stuff. Politicians show how compassionate they are by promising to rescue us from economic disaster. Those who want to show how hip they are by disdaining American society get their jollies by scoring such points.
A book titled "Myths of Rich and Poor" by W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm exposes such nonsense for the fraud that it is.
Despite the statistics that show real wages going downhill over time, somehow Americans are consuming more than ever and have a larger net worth than ever.
As of 1970, for example, only about a third of American homes had both central heating and air conditioning, while more than four-fifths had both in the 1990s. Moreover, the homes themselves were more than one-third larger.
Just over one-fourth of American households had a dishwasher in 1970 but more than half did by the 1990s. Only 34 percent of households had color television in 1970 but 98 percent did in the 1990s.
How could this be, with lower real wages? Were we just going deeper and deeper into debt? Actually the net worth of Americans more than doubled during those same years.
Was there some kind of economic Houdini who could perform such magic?
No. Actually a lot of the point-scoring rhetoric involves misleading statistics. Wages are only part of total compensation -- and increasing proportions of that total compensation is taken in the form of fringe benefits. Total compensation has been going up while average real wages have been going down.
Even the decline of real wages has to be taken with a grain of salt. Real wages are calculated by taking the money wages and adjusting for changes in the consumer price index.