CHART: Typical Hourly Wage Went Up Just $1.23 In The Last 36 Years

Our guest blogger is Laura Pereyra, special assistant for communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

In a speech yesterday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) claimed that President Obama created “class resentment” by calling for slightly higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. At the same time, Occupy Wall Street protesters continue to speak out in favor of an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top of the income scale.

Could their frustration be a product of the increasing inequality rather than Obama’s “divisive rhetoric?” Absolutely. In fact, a New York Times/CBS News poll released yesterday found that two-thirds of Americans believe “that wealth should be distributed more evenly in the country.”

As noted by the Half in Ten Campaign’s new report, “Restoring Shared Prosperity: Strategies to Cut Poverty and Expand Economic Growth,” the hourly wage of a typical worker grew from $14.73 in 1973 to $15.96 in 2009, for a raise in real terms (after accounting for inflation) of $1.23 over 36 years. Yes, you read that right. Only $1.23, an 8.4 percent increase over the last 36 years.


Top earners, meanwhile, saw a gain of $12.70 per hour gain (30 percent) over the same time frame. The growing gaps between the wealthy and everyone else could not be more stark.

Even 68 percent of millionaires, according to a survey from the Spectrem Group, agree that the rich should get taxed more. It’s not in the interest of America to have people fall out of the middle class and into an increasing population living in poverty, as the economy continues to suffer through a slow recovery. The middle class is the engine of America’s economic growth.

A report released this week by the Congressional Budget Office found that between 1979 and 2007, income grew 275 percent for the richest one percent of Americans, but by just 18 percent for those at the bottom. The federal government can do something about this — from investing in our infrastructure to improving education. It can help bolster demand and the Half in Ten Campaign offers some good ideas to get us started.