Income inequality chart of the day

By Felix Salmon
July 7, 2010
Catherine Rampell features this chart today, showing how wage inequality has increased over the past 30 years, especially for men. But in fact what we're seeing here understates how bad things have been for most men over the past generation. If you go to the source, this chart only shows data for people working full time. And, at least when it comes to men, that's much less common now than it was in 1979.

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Catherine Rampell features this chart today, showing how wage inequality has increased over the past 30 years, especially for men. But in fact what we’re seeing here understates how bad things have been for most men over the past generation. If you go to the source, this chart only shows data for people working full time. And, at least when it comes to men, that’s much less common now than it was in 1979.

The labor force participation rate for men 20 years and older was 79.8% in 1979; today, it’s just 74.4%. And I don’t think that most of that drop can be explained in terms of a larger number of students: the rate was as high as 77% as recently as August 2000, and then dropped to a low of 73.9% in December 2009.

You can be sure that most of the drop in labor force participation is coming from the less well educated Americans. Which means that if you’re a man with less than a high school diploma, your real wages have fallen by 28% over the past 30 years if you’re lucky enough to have a job at all. At the same time, the number of such men without a job has been growing steadily. It’s a depressing set of data, and there’s no sign of it turning around in the foreseeable future.

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