Annual inflation-adjusted earnings of the top 1.0 percent of wage earners grew 2.9 percent in 2015, and the top 0.1 percent’s earnings grew 3.4 percent, according to our analysis of the latest Social Security Administration wage data. What is relatively unique about 2015 was that the 3.4 percent wage growth for the bottom 90 percent matched that of the top 0.1 percent. This strong wage growth for the bottom 90 percent reflects both the lull in inflation (up just 0.1 percent) and the failure of wage inequality to continue its growth in 2015. Annual wages of the bottom 90 percent now stand 3.5 percent above what they were pre-recession in 2007, with all of that growth essentially occurring in 2015. The top 1.0 percent’s earnings have surpassed their previous high point, attained in 2007, by a mere 0.2 percent, recovering from the steep 15.6 percent fall during the financial crisis from 2007–09. High earners between the 90th and 99.9th percentile have seen the strongest growth since 2007, with earnings rising 7.7 percent. It’s only the earnings of the top 0.1 percent that remain below 2007 levels (down 5.1 percent).
Wage inequality has grown tremendously over the longer-term period from 1979 through 2015. The annual earnings of the top 1.0 percent rose 156.7 percent from 1979 to 2015 while the very top 0.1 percent enjoyed earnings growth of 338.8 percent. In contrast, the bottom 90 percent of wage earners had annual earnings grow by just 16.7 percent over the 1979–2007 period and an additional 3.5 percent between 2007 and 2015 for a cumulative annual earnings growth of 20.7 percent over the thirty-six years from 1979 to 2015.
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