Economics/Class Relations

How Bad Has the US Economy Become for Regular People? (1970 – 2020)

This article makes an empirical case that the economy still isn’t that bad, although data from the post-covid period has been deliberately excluded by the author, and the statistics presented end in 2019.  My initial impression of this author’s arguments is that he/she relies too strongly on the standard “even poor people have cell phones” and “housing is more expensive now because homes are larger” type of argument. No one denies technological progress has taken place, and that even the very poor have benefited from it. But what matters is the “threshold of subsistence.” In the late 1960s, a median income working-class male could support a family of four or five on a single income. That’s much more difficult today. While more people may go to college today, college is much more expensive relative to the comparative value of the dollar, and college is much more likely to be funded by debt. And even if some sectors are doing better now than in the past (e.g. middle-class female workers and middle-class minorities due to cultural openings and less institutionalized discrimination, the professional-managerial class, the bourgeois bohemians, or the newly rich), that doesn’t mean that other sectors are not going way downhill (e.g the working to middle classes generally, the petite bourgeoisie, the lower proletariat, and lumpenproletariat).

Ideas and Data

For the last fifteen years or so, economic populism has become increasingly popular among both the political left and right. This rise has gone hand in hand with the proliferation of a narrative which says that the economic gains in this country have gone exclusively to elites since the 1970s while the incomes of regular people have stagnated as the cost of living necessities has increased making the current generation poorer than past ones. Previously, I’ve argued that modern societal progress seemingly hasn’t improved people’s psychological well being (Last, 2020). Some suggested that this unequal distribution of economic growth explains why. In this post, I will argue that, for the most part, this narrative is not true. Because COVID has obviously caused economic conditions to temporarily worsen, the data I’ll be looking at in this post will end prior to the pandemic.

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