Wage Disparities Exploded in Past 30 Years

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The rich really are getting richer, and now the government has proof.

The hourly wages of top income earners in the U.S. increased at a significantly faster rate during the past three decades compared to the hourly wages of those at the middle and low ends of the spectrum, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. The report analyzed hourly wage discrepancies between 1979 and 2009.

Workers in the top 10% of income earners (above the 90th percentile) in 2009 earned an hourly salary of at least $38.25 ($76,500 annually), while the bottom 50% earned below $16.80 an hour ($33,600 annually) and the bottom 10% (below the 10th percentile) saw wages below $8.45 an hour ($16,900 annually), the CBO reports. To put that in perspective, that means the wealthiest 10% earned at least 128% more than the median income and at least a whopping 353% more than those at the bottom.

If that sounds extreme, just compare it to the way things were three decades earlier. With inflation factored in, the richest 10% earned a minimum of $25.20 per hour ($50,400 annually) in 1979, or about 79% more than the $14.05 hourly rate ($28,100 annually) below which half of all wage earners fell that year. That richest 10% in 1979 also made 217% more than the 10th percentile ($7.95 an hour or $15,900 annually) that year.  Sure, there was still a gap between the highest income earners and the rest of the country, but certainly not as big a gap as it is now.

As the CBO’s data show, high wage earners have seen salaries increase by at least a third in the past three decades, while those in the bottom half have seen their salaries increase by at most about 20% and those in the bottom 10% have seen their salaries remain virtually stagnant.

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