Economics

Envy Your Kids

Income keeps growing

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In less than a lifetime, the $10.7 trillion U.S. economy could grow more than 12-fold, to $128.6 trillion by 2077, according to a new report issued by the nonpartisan Employment Policy Foundation (EPF). Taking population growth into account, that means real U.S. per capita personal income could rise fivefold, from $31,384 today to $155,632 in 2077.

Impossible? Not at all. This has happened before, way back in the 20th century: Since 1929 the U.S. economy has grown 10-fold, from $1 trillion to $10.7 trillion, while per capita personal incomes have grown 5-fold, from $6,329 to $31,384. As a result of an average economic growth rate of 3.4 percent since 1929, the U.S. economy represents about one-third of total annual world output of $32.2 trillion. "Having per capita personal incomes of $150,000 in 2077 is no more fantastical than where we are today would have been to my grandmother," says EPF chief economist Ron Bird.

Of course, there's a case to be made that this scenario is still pretty fantastical. If the poverty threshold for individuals in the U.S. also increases fivefold over the next 74 years, then someone on the cusp of poverty in 2077 will make the equivalent of $46,795. That's more than the median household income of $42,228 today and only slightly less than the $48,000 per year that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average computer programmer makes.