By David Cay Johnston
All opinions expressed are his own.

Here is how much economic progress America has made in the 21st Century: the average taxpayer’s 2009 income was at the same level as 1997.

Average 2009 income was $54,283, just $18 more than in 1997 when you adjust for inflation, not that anyone would notice a difference of $1.50 a month in their pocket.

And compared to 2007, the last peak year of the economy, average income fell a painful $8,588 or 13.7 percent in real terms. Having $716 less each month is something most people would notice.

These figures come from the newest tax return data issued by the Internal Revenue Service. You won’t find the numbers above at the IRS website, just raw numbers that I use to calculate changes in incomes, taxes paid and related information.

You also won’t find this data analyzed in most of the mainstream press because our major newspapers and broadcast outlets are too focused on what politicians stay instead of what they do and what the official measures of economic performance tell us.