Income mobility

Why Does the New York Times See Upward Income Mobility as a Tragedy?

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Courtesy of Alan Vanneman (blogger, novelist, and film critic extraordinaire), comes word that The New York Times is horrified by the "shrinking middle class." The odd thing about the concern is that the Times' own research shows that fewer people are poor than they were 40-odd years ago and more people are rich.

In the late 1960s, writes the Times,

more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today's dollars, $35,000 to $100,000 a year….

But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow.

So here are some of the charts accompanying the story:

NY Times

Vanneman writes:

If you actually read the article (closely) and look at the graphs, you'll notice that the percentage of American households with an income under $35,000 (in current dollars) fell from 40% in 1967 to 31% in 2000, before pushing back up to 35% in 2011 and then down to 34% in 2013. One can suspect that it's slid another percentage point, or even two, as of today. At the same time, the percentage of households with an income exceeding $100,000 a year rose from 7% in 1967 to a high of 25% in 2000 before sliding to 22% in 2013…. In very large part, the "shrinking" of the middle class (from 53% in 1967 to 43% in 2013) has been good news rather than bad.

But that, unsurprisingly, isn't good enough (or newsy enough) for the New York Times. The data the Times shows us show that, since 1969, the middle class has been shrinking because people have been moving up and out of the middle class even faster than formerly low-income people have been moving up and into it, which in fact is very good news. This long-term trend was pushed into reverse by the Great Contraction but is now being reversed again (back to "normal") as we slowly (too slowly) regain our economic health…. In the long run, the middle class has been shrinking because people are getting richer, not because they have been getting poorer.

Read his whole critique here.

Vanneman reading comports with data on income mobility from people such as the Manhattan Institute's Scott Winship. Formerly of Pew and Brookings, Winship has found no change over the past 40 years in the rates by which individuals move from one income quintile to another. He's not alone in that conclusion, either. Harvard's Raj Chetty, for instance, concludes (in the Wash Post's summary):

Children growing up in America today are just as likely — no more, no less — to climb the economic ladder as children born more than a half-century ago, a team of economists reported Thursday.

That's good news, of course, but it always seems to be a conclusion that is resisted mightily by the media. Part of the reason, I think, is simply dispositional—many journalists, even conservative ones—believe the world is always getting worse and falling farther and farther from a Golden Age that typically corresponds to a given journalist's childhood. And part of me thinks, a long the lines Vanneman suggests, that worsening economic conditions is simply a variation on the old "if it bleeds, it leads" formula. Who the hell wants to read about good news? Even the comics pages thrive on bad outcomes. And part of the reason is a lack of social and historical context. I'm always amazed at how few people I meet have much interest or knowledge in just how awful living standards even in recent times have been, and how quickly the ascent of most Americans (not all, but most) into a stuff-filled middle-class lifestyle has been. But surely anyone over 50 or so is more likely than not to be just one generation removed from the broad-based poverty that characterized the country prior to World War II.

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  1. But surely anyone over 50 or so is more likely than not to be just one generation removed from the broad-based poverty that characterized the country prior to World War II.

    Are you talking relative compared to today? Because last I’ve read the US was quite wealthy before WWII.

    1. first of all, Winston is my son, and he knows he’s not allowed to comment on here until ALL HIS HOMEWORK IS DONE!

      Second, was not the depression right before WWII (or the great east asian liberation war as Hiro Hito’s people called it)?

      1. It’s not The War of American Aggression?

  2. Look, man, there’s a narrative. It’s not all the news that fit to print (or even sing, phil ochs was better as John Train). It’s all the news that fits the narrative.

    1. Yeah – and the leftist/commie narrative involves endless yacking about “income inequality” and how “destabilizing” that is for the country as an excuse for even more government forced wealth redistribution.

      Which is the same objective that they’ve had for about 100 years or so.

  3. Courtesy of Alan Vanneman[…]

    Well, that’s it. We have officially run out of stuff to talk about. If Nick has to post an opinion piece on something Anal Vanneman wrote, the Universe has finally reached the point of homeostasis and nothing will ever happen again, ever more.

    You can all just sit down and let yourselves starve to death. There is nothing else left to do.

    1. Well, Vanneman is hat-tipped probably more than any other frequent commenter here.

      You really have to wonder why, considering he is quite explicitly not a libertarian, doesn’t have much respect for libertarian views, and that his posts here and on his blog when they do attempt to engage libertarian ideas are only to use them to concern troll. He must attend the same cocktail parties (I mean that half-seriously BTW).

      1. I don’t understand it, either. Also, the banality of his occasional comments makes me want to puke. There is rarely any interest in intellectual engagement with this guy.

        For the love of Krishna, I can’t see what is the big deal with this guy.

        1. I can’t see what is the big deal with this guy.

          Cocktail parties.

    2. Dude is a stick-in-the-mud pedant. I’ll bet he’s a real hoot at all those cocktail parties.

  4. “But what the honorable member is saying is that he would rather the poor were poorer provided the rich were less rich.”

  5. In the long run, the middle class has been shrinking because people are getting richer, not because they have been getting poorer.

    Or maybe it is the fact most middle class Americans don’t like to be called “middle class” and so the goal posts have not budged an inch. I am willing to bet that, taking into account the purchasing power of the dollar, a middle class person in 1960 is now a “rich” person according to Nuestro Querid?simo y Excelent?simo Se?or Presidente Obama and his minions.

    I really don’t give a rat’s ass if I am “middle class” or not. I just don’t want the state taking my money.

  6. On the plus side, interior design has sure improved.

  7. “Why Does the New York Times See Upward Income Mobility as a Tragedy?”

    It’s because they are closet commies. That’s it, isn’t it?

    No, really, I am not joking.

    I knew it.

    1. More rich people make it harder for New York Times writers to get reservations at hot new restaurants.

  8. Also, Alan Vanneman? That guy?

    From reading his posts here I thought of him as a collectivist troll nearly on par with Tony.

    So, there are people who take him seriously. That’s interesting.

    1. Stopped clocks and all that.

    2. Well, “they” also take Andrew motherfucking Sullivan seriously enough to post a lavishly reverential obit to his shitty, lie-defined blogging career.

      On the plus side, at least this article is interesting.

  9. Sounds like a pretty radical plan to me dude.

    http://www.BestAnon.tk

  10. This long-term trend was pushed into reverse by the Great Contraction but is now being reversed again (back to “normal”) as we slowly (too slowly)

    Hmm, looks like what we may have here is a crisis of conscious… or a crisis of opposing narratives. Occupy Wall Street takes the view of the New York Times. However, Vanneman’s view could be interpreted that Stimulus was Good, Stimulus Worked, and Obama’s turned everything around, thank you very much.

    I say we sit back, let them fight it out.

    1. Conscience*

      Gah. If gamespot can have an edit button, why can’t we?

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