Posted by: Mark Gimein on October 21, 2011 at 1:18 PM
A strange thing about Wall Street is that it’s in some ways a bad vantage point from which to look at what’s driving the economy. A good way to see the impetus behind the Occupy Wall Street movement is to get far away from the epicenter. Like South Carolina.
A Bloomberg story that should have gotten more attention looked at the experience of South Carolina, a state that sold itself to new employers as a business friendly place where they wouldn’t have to worry about unions. What’s telling about the state’s experience is that it succeeded with the pitch to business, bringing in big employers like BMW and Boeing. Nonetheless the state’s poverty numbers have gotten worse.
The basic issue here—wages remaining stagnant even when the economy seems to chug along nicely—precedes the 2008 crash by many years. When the US last seemed to be in a deep economic malaise, in the late 70s and early 80s, the standard complaint was that we just didn’t make anything anymore. Now we do; those plants in South Carolina are evidence of that. The benefit of this, however, has not trickled down.
In 1980, the median income for a man aged 25 to 34 was (adjusted for inflation to 2010 dollars) $39,250. You probably already have seen many statistic about income stagnation. Here’s a less abstract way of one way of thinking about it: in 2010, the median income for a man aged 55 to 64 was $41,197. That man aged 55 or 60 now is the same man who was 25 or 30 then. In 30 years, he has gotten a raise of about 5% (Or more precisely, he did get raises, and then they were taken away. Since 1990, his income has fallen dramatically.)
Put yourself in that man’s shoes, and you can see why his experience is central to the wealth debate: he may blame the banks, as the Zuccotti park protesters do, or he may blame the government, as the Tea Party does, but you can bet he feels like there’s something wrong.