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August 26, 2004

I Don't Want To Work

Not surprising, but worth a mention: incomes grew over the 1990s in Washington, but the gains were lopsided. Adjusting for inflation, annual wages at the 25th percentile grew by $800 over the decade. At the 90th percentile, wages grew by $8,864 -- ten times as much.

Don't get me wrong -- the gains in the 25th percentile were probably good news. (I say "probably" rather than "definitely" because inflation adjustments are a tricky business: inflation may progress at a different pace for the poor and the well-off, since they spend different shares of their incomes on housing, food, and services -- all of which have slightly different paces of inflation.) But don't celebrate too much: the growing gaps between rich and poor come with hidden costs. Increased income inequality tends to correlate with higher rates of violence and property crimes, lower voter participation, less support for public investments, and slower increases in lifespan. Some of these trends improved over the 1990s, but some evidence suggests that they could have improved even more if economic gains had been more broadly shared.

Although the gaps between rich and poor widened over the decade, the gaps between men and women narrowed, at least somewhat. By most measures, gains in women's incomes outpaced those of men. For women working full time, median incomes increased by $4,700 over the decade; for men the gain at the median was $2,000. (Still, the median wage for women who worked full time in 1999 was $29,000 -- about 28% lower than the $40,000 earned by the median man.)

So the lessons for me: as one form of inequality wanes, another form waxes. And in setting economic priorities for the region, we should pay close attention to these changes--the priorities of the last decade may not be the priorities of the coming one.

On a side note: only about half of all adults aged 18-64 in Washington State have full-time jobs; the rest work part time, or not at all. And that doesn't include all of the kids and retirees -- if you include them, then it's more like a third of us who have full time jobs. Which makes me all the more astounded at our region's economic prosperity -- and also makes me wonder whether I *really* need to work so hard.

Posted by ClarkWD | Permalink