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美國中產階層遇「失落的十年」




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9/16/2018

美國中產階層遇「失落的十年」

這個周末是2008年金融危機爆發十周年,不少專家都討論危機爆發的原因,以及預防下次危機的方法,卻很少有人提到美國中產階層和打工族,在危機和隨後的經濟大衰退中的境況,其實他們才是最大受害者。危機爆發後獲政府「紓困」的銀行和銀行高管,早已重新獲利,重拾「肥貓」高薪,但大部分美國人十年來所承受的痛苦,真可謂是中產階層「失落的十年」。

過去十年發生的事,很多人還記憶猶新,歷歷在目。李曼兄弟2008年9月15日倒閉,到2009年3月9日,道瓊指數跌至6500點低點,當時美國經濟正走向懸崖,隨時可能墮崖,陷入蕭條。在經濟急速惡化下,全美爆發裁員潮,後來裁員高峰時,全美失業大軍達1500萬人,還有約1000萬人只有半職工作,工時不足。

真是哀鴻遍野,到處聽到失業悲歌,不但父母失業,子女也找不到工作,2009年畢業的大學生幾乎全面賦閒在家,許多法學院畢業生也要到兩、三年後,才能找到工作。因為經濟大衰退,不少人十年來沒有加薪。

形容過去十年是美國中產階層失落的十年,有數字根據。商務部人口普查局12日公布「貧窮與收入」報告,因為研究2007年至2017年美國人收入情況,剛好用來證明過去十年確實是中產階層失落的十年。

一,報告說,中等收入的中產階層(不是上層中產和下層中產),2017年家庭收入增加1.8%,達到6萬1372元,但周薪(week wages)卻減少了1.1%。為什麼工資減少了,家庭收入卻可以增加?因為這一年很多半職工作沒人做(失業率跌至4.1%,從半職變為全職),所以全職中產階層可以增加工時,藉此增加收入。

上述數字值得注意的,是2017年失業率已由4.8%降至4.1%,但就業市場雖趨向緊張,仍不足以使工資上升,可見美國中產階層長期工資停滯不前的困境。

另外,2017年中產家庭收入6萬1372元,比2014年的5萬9534元,增加了3%,但報告特別指出,2013年時曾變更家庭收入的計算方法,新計算辦法使家庭收入剛好提高3%;換言之,如果減去2013年變更所增加的3%,2017年的家庭收入就與2014年和2007年毫無分別,亦即,2007年到2017年這十年,美國中產階層工資根本沒有增加過,充分證明中產階層遇到失落的十年。

二,報告又將中產家庭的收入追蹤至2000年,顯示工資停滯時間比2007年更早。報告說,如果扣去2013年變更計算方法所增加的3%,再扣去依靠社安金退休老者的家庭,2017年的中產家庭收入,相比於2000年的中產家庭收入,不但沒增加,反而減少了2.7%;因為2000年的中產家庭收入是7萬1577元,而2017年中產家庭收入是6萬9628元,比2000年減少了1949元,亦即減少2.7%。這種情況顯示,不但過去十年是中產階層失落的十年,過去17年更是「失落的17年」。

三,報告只追蹤收入至2000年,但近期不少研究指出,中產階層工資停滯不前,可以追溯至1970年代,這已是一個共識,也是美國社會的實況。反映數十年來,因為中產階層工資停滯,導致中產階層日漸萎縮,不但人口減少(過去40年,38州的中產階層人口減少了30%),而且收入與富人相比差距越來越大。總部設在華府的「經濟政策研究中心」公布的資料顯示,2007年以來,全美最高收入的5%人士,收入增加了8%,但中等家庭的收入則減少了2.9%;換言之,貧富收入差距越來越擴大,富者越富,而貧者則越貧。

勞工部本月7日公布的8月份就業報告顯示,期待已久的工資上漲終於出現。8月的工資增加了2.9%,這是自2009年4月經濟大衰退以來的最快速增長。這是一個好消息,對不少十年沒有加薪的人,終於看到了希望的曙光。

不得不說的是,造成40年來中產階層工資停滯不前的原因基本沒變(包括企業的利潤政策和政府的經濟政策),眼前的工資增長是否成為持續的趨勢?是有待觀察的問題。但不要忘了,目前美國經濟繁榮(今年第二季GDP增長4.2%),是川普政府以減稅1.5兆元利多,和增加政府開支2000億元造成的刺激效果,而大部分減稅款項都落入企業和富人手裡,中產階層至今並沒有感受到減稅的好處。刺激效果是短暫的,不久將消失,突然而來的快速工資增長,也可能只是曇花一現。






9/16/2018

Ten Years After the Start of the Great Recession, Middle-Class Incomes Are Only Just Catching Up

By John Cassidy

On Wednesday, the Census Bureau released its annual report on poverty and income in the United States. The report is always informative, and this year’s version, which covers 2017, allows us to look at how various groups have fared in the decade since the Great Recession began, in 2007. Because this week marks the tenth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, it is especially timely, and the report’s findings present an alarming picture. Though many of the banks and bankers that got bailed out in 2008 rebounded long ago and went on to rake in even greater riches, many ordinary Americans are only now recouping their losses.

In 2017, the first year of the Trump Administration, inflation-adjusted median household income—the income of the household in the very middle of the income distribution—rose a modest 1.8 per cent, to $61,372. To be sure, any rise is welcome. And last year was the third year in a row in which median household incomes increased, with a particularly strong jump coming in 2015, the penultimate year of the Obama Administration. Compared with its 2014 figure, median household income in 2017 was about ten per cent higher. That’s obviously a positive development. But these numbers don’t take account of other findings in the new report, which present a grimmer picture.

First, the weekly wages of typical middle-class workers didn’t rise at all last year. In fact, they fell slightly, as a pickup in prices bit into inflation-adjusted pay. The “real median earnings of men and women working full-time, year-round each decreased . . . by 1.1 percent,” the report read. This decrease in wages came during a year in which the official unemployment rate fell from 4.8 per cent to 4.1 per cent, which is a low level by historic standards. Even a tightening labor market wasn’t enough to generate a rise in wages.

How can a household’s income go up when its wages are stagnant or falling? The answer is by working longer hours: the number of people working part time fell markedly last year. Giving workers the opportunity to do longer hours helps them take home more money, but it’s only a stopgap measure. To generate a significant and lasting improvement in the living standards of middle-class Americans, we need to see a significant and lasting increase in hourly and weekly wages. Wednesday’s report showed that this didn’t materialize in 2017.

Another point to note is that, despite the pickup in incomes since 2014, many middle-class American households are only now making up for the large losses they suffered in previous years. In 2007, according to the Census Bureau’s figures, median household income was $59,534, just three per cent below the 2017 level. That's disturbing enough, but it doesn’t tell the full story. For its 2013 report, the Bureau changed one of the surveys that it uses to measure median household income, and the changes raised the estimates by about three per cent. If you adjust the pre-2013 figures for these changes, according to Trudi J. Renwick, a senior official at the Census Bureau, “the 2017 median household income is not statistically different from the pre-recession estimate for 2007.” In other words, middle-income Americans have experienced a lost decade.

And, actually, it’s been longer than that, because middle-class incomes were also stagnant or falling in the period before 2007, despite the fact that the economy was expanding. Renwick said that median household income in 2017 wasn’t statistically different from median household income in 1999, the peak of the Clinton-Greenspan boom. If you do the adjustments for the changes made in 2013, and omit from the comparison elderly households, which tend to rely on Social Security and other forms of retirement income, the picture is even more disturbing. “Altogether, from 2000–2017, the median income for non-elderly households fell from $71,577 to $69,628, a decline of $1,949, or 2.7 percent,” Elise Gould and Julia Wolfe, two researchers at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, noted. “In short, the last three years should not make us forget that incomes for the majority of Americans have experienced a lost 17 years of growth.”

That’s a remarkable development, and it has occurred while the richest households in the country were enjoying sizable income gains. The E.P.I.’s analysis shows that, since 2007, the inflation-adjusted incomes of households in the top five per cent of the income distribution—counting elderly and non-elderly households together—have risen by eight per cent, whereas the incomes of households at the sixtieth percentile have risen 2.9 per cent, and incomes at the fortieth percentile have fallen slightly. Broadly speaking, the less rich you were starting out, the worse you have fared, in absolute and relative terms.

Going back to 2000, the differences are even more glaring. Between 2000 and 2017, the richest households saw their incomes rise by 9.3 per cent, whereas the incomes of households at the fortieth percentile and twentieth percentiles fell by 2.1 per cent and 4.1 per cent, respectively. (In coming up with these numbers, the E.P.I. analysts adjusted the Census Bureau data to account for the Bureau’s survey change for 2013.)

The over-all picture is clear, then. It was ordinary, non-rich Americans who bore the greatest costs of the Great Recession and its lengthy aftermath. And, despite some welcome gains in median household income in recent years, the long-standing problem of middle-class-wage stagnation—a problem that goes back to the nineteen-seventies—is still with us. Even if the modest wage increases that showed up in last week’s employment report from the Department of Labor endure, there is an enormous distance to go in order to restore the broadly shared prosperity that the American economy enjoyed in the decades after the Second World War.


Source: https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/ten-years-after-the-start-of-the-great-recession-middle-class-incomes-are-only-just-catching-up











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