The New York Times ran a Steven Rattner op-ed piece this morning titled The Rich Get Even Richer. The article calls for our nation to address the ever widening income gap between the top richest one percent of Americans and the rest of us, citing new statistics derived by two French economists studying American’s 2010 tax returns. One of the more salient statistics reads as follows: “The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income” (1).
My first reaction was, quite frankly, “$80 more per person? Bullshit, too high.” Because the truth in our household, where my husband is the primary wage-earner working full-time for the State of North Carolina, is that we have witnessed a consistent decrease in pay over the past four years. It’s caused by pay stagnation (no raise in base salary since 2008) coupled with the rising cost of healthcare coverage.
I did a quick check of his individual pay statistics to make sure my gut sense was right. Here’s what I found (2).
- In 2009 and 2010, 15.86 percent of his gross salary went toward our healthcare premium. In 2011, healthcare premiums ate up 17.27 percent of gross salary. In 2012, healthcare premiums are costing us 18.82 percent of his gross salary.
- If I add into this our premiums for dental and vision care, the jump is even greater, from 16.62 percent of gross salary in 2009 to 21.53 percent in 2012. The percentage would go even higher if I factored in the rising cost of co-pays.
- In terms of out-of-pocket numbers, in 2010, my husband took home $273.60 less than he did in 2009. In 2011, he took home $569.28 less than in 2010. So far in 2012, he’s on track to take home $1136.88 less than he did in 2011.
Yes, that income gap is widening and at a fiercer pace at least by my reckoning than our 2010 tax returns suggest. So at a minimum, I’m going to delve deeper into the findings of these French economists and do a tighter analysis of our own numbers.
And by all means, my mother is absolutely right: special interests must be stopped. What is scary is not that some guy is eating caviar while I’m eating peanut butter, but that that guy can buy my government, while all I have to offer my representative if I want something is a nice PB and sometimes J. For my two cents I’m voting that special interests will go away if we make the federal government so small that there’s nothing to buy . . . but that is all fodder for another day.
What’s got me to the page today is this: despite the figures, my husband and I feel richer in 2012 than we did in 2009. And frankly, while I do believe we need to address the rich-poor schism in our country, I’m getting tired of airwaves full of poor me whines. Look, it’s like this — you can spend your life chasing that one Horatio Alger spot at the front of the American Dream line, or you can simply start your own line. Queue up right at the head of it too, up there in one percent land.
So yes, there’s a lot in our personal story about reducing our expenses. We carry no debt except on our home and believe me, she’s a modest ship. We use air to dry our clothes and wood that we chop by hand to heat our home. We grow a lot of our own veggies, make our own laundry detergent and rarely eat in a restaurant. But it’s more than balance sheet decisions. It’s about what line we’re in.
In our line, we are wealthy. After all, we have clean water to drink, to bathe in, to clean with. We eat every day. We have shelter, clothing, transportation, a connection to the internet. We even have access to chilling cold air in the middle of an August heat-wave, ice cubes too. A machine washes our clothes, cooks our food, cleans our dishes. We can entertain ourselves with books, toys, art supplies, sports equipment, radio, DVDs, TV, digital downloads. We live in a peaceful neighborhood. Our children can attend public school. We have access to the public library.
In this line, we spend time with each other. We work hard. We play hard. We love. As I said, in this line, we are rich.
It is intensely simplistic, but perhaps one way to start to re-balance the income schism is to stop making money cool. Devalue that U.S. dollar straight out from under the one percent. I know, there ain’t an ounce of economics in my argument. If the U.S. dollar is devalued, no one will have a job, and so on. Let that adult mind go for the moment. Sometimes what matters in solving a problem is your perspective.
© Jennifer S. and harvestliberty.net, 2012.
(2) Here’s how I did my figuring: Sometimes my husband earns extra pay for responding to emergency situations. This pay is never certain and isn’t something he can routinely pursue to raise his overall yearly income, nor does it in any way affect his baseline pay, which has remained the same. To address this fluctuation in his monthly pay, I have used his average monthly pay across four years as the basis for his gross pay. Ignoring all other factors, such as how much tax the government takes, or how much we’re paying into our retirement, or even the increase in healthcare co-pays, I simply looked at average monthly gross pay minus monthly basic healthcare costs for the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Because changes in coverage for our vision and dental healthcare affected premium costs, I have parsed those out. Therefore the initial healthcare figure used encompasses only what we pay each month in premiums for basic 80/20 healthcare coverage for my husband, myself and one of our children. I am using only my husband’s income because I am presently a stay-at-home mom with only a minimal income through freelance work that carries no guarantee of steady pay. In 2010, for example, I had no external income.