The U.S. Wealth Divide in 7 Graphs

by Ozzie Zehner

Robert Reich here at UC Berkeley published an opinion piece in the New York Times with some timely statistics:

  • The 5 percent of Americans with the highest incomes now account for 37 percent of all consumer purchases.
  • Fewer than 8 percent of private-sector workers are unionized.
  • While Americans’ average hourly pay has risen only 6 percent since 1985, adjusted for inflation, German workers’ pay has risen almost 30 percent.
  • At the same time, the top 1 percent of German households now take home about 11 percent of all income — about the same as in 1970.

He tells the story with some related charts, which compare U.S. income and productivity metrics over time.

US Wealth Disparity in Seven Graphs

My struggle here is with the productivity metric, the calculation of which has changed over time.  What, exactly, does a productivity measure indicate?  The efficiency with which natural and human resources are transformed into convertible wealth?  And to what ends? And from the income side, where do measures of personal satisfaction and health  fit in the story? Read