The Lookout

Workers’ share of national income plummets to record low

Zachary Roth
The Lookout

Over the last decade, the share of U.S. national income taken home by workers has plummeted to a record low.

Check out the chart below, compiled by the Labor Department, and posted this week by conservative writer David Frum. It shows that the decline began with the brief recession that followed 9/11 in 2001. But it continued even as the economy picked up again, and got even worse once the Great Recession hit. In the weak recovery since then, workers' share of income just kept on falling.

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Why are workers taking home such a reduced share of the pie? Opinions differ, but many experts think that the trend has to do with a number of factors, including a decline in the bargaining power of labor, and increased competition from foreign workers. Similarly, over the last year or so, U.S. companies have made record profits, while unemployment has stayed high and wages have barely risen.

The chart jibes with other data, which show that since the 1980s, income for the richest 1 percent of Americans has exploded, while hardly budging at all for everyone else.

Still, there's little sense that either Obama administration or Congress plan to do much about this growing inequality. Indeed, any serious action to boost the economy and cut unemployment now seems to be off the table.

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