Home > Uncategorized > Average incomes in the US 1979-2015

Average incomes in the US 1979-2015

from David Ruccio


This is my own chart—showing the dramatic changes in the average incomes of the bottom 90 percent, the top 10 percent, and the top 1 percent—from the World Wealth and Income Database.

Incomes are in thousands of real 2015 dollars. Thus, for example, the average income of the bottom 90 percent fell between 1979 and 2015 (from $34.6 thousand to $33.2 thousand), while the average income of the top 10 percent rose (from $149.1 thousand to $273.8 thousand) and that of the top 1 percent soared (from $370.2 thousand to over $1 million).

Other charts in this series can be found here, here, and here.

Emmanuel Saez, Thomas Piketty, and the rest of the team need to be credited for making their data available. Readers should feel free to use this chart and reproduce it as they wish. . .

  1. Daniel Linotte
    July 14, 2016 at 10:36 am

    The rich are becoming richer. It would also be interesting to compare median and average incomes to show the growing inequalities.

  2. Daniel Linotte
    July 14, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Gross or net (after tax) incomes?
    The main changes occurred in (about) 1986-1988 and during the 1990s – Why?

  3. July 14, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I would suggest those changes accurately reflect the changes in tax policy over that period.

    • Daniel Linotte
      July 14, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      What about also:
      1) deregulation,
      2) trade liberalization (with WTO),
      3) the business cycle?

  4. July 14, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Almost from the moment economics and economies were invented about 5,000 years ago there has been a tendency for stratification based on economic factors – money, wealth, income, property, employment, etc. The invention of capitalism merely expanded this tendency. The counter weights to capitalism are mostly political and moral, from rebellion, salvation and damnation, and peer pressure to democracy, public service, and progressive taxation. But these counter weights have been pushed down to such an extent over the last 100 years or so that now economic stratification has become ever more fixed, ever more politically protected, and ever more portrayed as natural and necessary as today to be virtually unchangeable, even in the face of massive problems relating to the skewed stratification. In simple terms economic stratification is threatening human extinction and humans are powerless to act to prevent it.

    • Bill Williams
      July 14, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      Ken Zimmerman, Yesterday I read a 1999 study about grazing cows. It seems that the most dominant cows got the best grazing land and raised the healthiest offspring. Pecking order, class system?

  5. Tom Welsh
    July 14, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    ” In simple terms economic stratification is threatening human extinction and humans are powerless to act to prevent it”.

    Agreed. Which, when you come to think of it, really means that human beings – as a species – are not intelligent.

    • July 16, 2016 at 5:54 am

      Which I take to signify that human evolution happened as it did as a result of human aggressiveness and compliance – interesting combination – rather than intelligence, whatever that is.

  6. July 14, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    You don’t suppose there would be a relation between low interest rates — especially at present, exceptionally low interest rates that compress the spread between the rate money is lent out and what rate the investment banks can obtain from the Fed window — and a 40-year period of economic recoveries that are succeedingly weaker to the point that we are unable to achieve good growth rates (real GDP above 3% or real GDP per capita above 2%-2.5%). The low interest rates over a long span of time pushes up asset values — mainly held by upper income folks; and, the poor economic growth hurts working folks (the bottom 90% who don’t earn most of their income from capital gains) the most.


  7. July 14, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    A better chart —


    …and put a ? after that sentence.

  8. July 15, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Partly due to base effect and partly due to individual effort. However, at the bottom, these two factors do not bring about a noticeable difference.

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