America’s middle class is in deep trouble.
While there is near universal agreement that a thriving middle class is essential to long-term economic prosperity, we’re deeply divided about what builds it. Conservatives, such as those in the White House and in control of Congress, contend that lower taxes are a key ingredient. Liberals argue it comes down to government policies that give low earners a leg up and support those already in the middle.
My own research on trends in the U.S. and eight other developed countries looks at what conditions create more middle-income households. If President Donald Trump really wants to help the working class voters who elected him, he should look to what other developed nations have been doing to sustain a large middle class.
His current proposals, I believe, will simply accelerate its erosion in the United States….
The fall of the USmiddle class and the hair-raising ascent of Donald Trump
Source: Steven Pressman, Real-World Economics Review, issue no. 78, 2017
According to Thomas Piketty (2014), between 1980 and 2010 the share of total US income going to the top 10% of earners rose from around 30 – 35%, where it stood for several decades, to nearly 50%. These are very conservative estimates. Piketty’s figures come from the distribution of adjusted gross income (AGI), reported by the US Internal Revenue Service. AGI subtracts from income things like investment losses, retirement account contributions and their returns (see Pressman 2015, Chapter 2). With large adjustments, someone can make a lot of money but have little AGI; or, as in the case of Donald Trump, you can report a negative AGI of nearly $1 billion. In addition, tax – free income (such as unrealized capital gains and interest on municipal bonds), as well as returns on money hidden in tax havens, are not reported to the IRS and do not appear in AGI. Like the adjustments helping Trump avoid taxes, this income mainly goes to the wealthy and has been growing for several decades (Zucman, 2015).