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TRUMP EFFECT: Incomes Hit Record High and Poverty Reached Record Low in 2019

There is no one on G-d’s green earth better equipped to get us right back than the great man who delivered these momentous gains.

NEW: Incomes hit record high and poverty reached record low in 2019

American households saw their best economic gains in half a century last year under President Trump, according to a report this week from the Census Bureau.And with the President’s pro-growth, pro-worker policies in action, this standard can be achieved again as America safely reopens from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Median household income grew by a stunning $4,400 in 2019, resulting in an all-time record of $68,700. This 6.8 percent one-year increase is the largest gain on record for median income growth.

The poverty rate plunged to an all-time low of 10.5 percent, as well. Between 2018 and 2019 alone, over 4 million Americans were lifted out of poverty, and the child poverty

Minority groups including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans saw the largest gains in income, while poverty rates fell to a record low for every race and ethnic group in 2019.

Black Americans, for example, saw a 7.9 percent median income increase and a poverty rate that fell below 20 percent for the first time in history.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted this historic progress in 2020. Nevertheless, America today is witnessing the fastest recovery from any economic crisis in history. Thanks to the strong fundamentals of the Trump Economy, the monthly jobs report has met or exceeded economist expectations for four months in a row.

The new Census report confirms what we know to be true: With the right agenda for blue-collar and middle-class workers, there’s no limit to America’s economic greatness!


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California’s Statewide $15 Minimum Wage Will Horribly Backfire for Poorer Cities by Mark J. Perry

I wrote earlier this month about one of the potentially fatal flaws of California’s recently enacted $15 an hour statewide minimum wage: a one-size-fits-all uniform $15 minimum wage for the entire state of California is really a “one-size-fits-none” minimum wage, given the huge variations in the cost of living around the country’s most populous state.

While a high-wage, high cost-of-living city like San Francisco might be able to absorb a $15 minimum wage without experiencing significant negative employment effects, that same $15 wage could inflict serious economic damages and result in job losses for many of the state’s 500 cities that are in low-wage, low cost-of-living areas.

To help understand how the “one-size-fits-all” approach of a $15 an hour state minimum wage will have a disproportionately adverse impact on low-cost communities in California, the table below displays the “living hourly wages” for California’s 26 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), based on data from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator for the year 2014 (most recent year available).

According to the MIT website, the cost-of-living adjusted living wages are the “hourly rates that individuals must earn [in a given MSA] to support their family [and cover basic family expenses], if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2,080 hours per year).” Living wages for adult workers with 1 to 3 children are also displayed in the table.

The living wage data shown above reveal huge differences in the cost-of-living between low-cost California MSAs like Yuba City, El Centro, Chico, and Merced (living wages are below $10 an hour) and high-cost cities like San Francisco and San Jose, where the cost-of-living adjusted living wage is 38% higher.

If $15 an hour is an appropriate minimum wage for San Francisco, it should be less than $11 an hour in MSAs like Yuba City and El Centro, where the cost-of-living is significantly lower. It’s also important to note that all four of those low-cost MSAs had jobless rates above the state average in February, and three of them (all except Chico) had double-digit unemployment rates in February, with El Centro having the distinction of once again being the MSA with the highest jobless rate in the entire country at 18.6%.

Therefore, many MSAs in California (like Yuba City, El Centro, Chico and Merced) not only have costs-of-living way below the state average, but they also have jobless rates that are way above the state average, and it’s those MSAs that will be adversely impacted by the imposition of a uniform state minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Bottom Line: As I concluded before, even supporters of a $15 an hour minimum wage in California would have to concede that a one-size-fits-all, uniform $15 an hour state minimum wage, without any adjustments for the significant differences in the cost-of-living across the Golden State, will disproportionately affect unskilled and limited-experience workers in low-cost MSAs like Yuba City and El Centro, and also in hundreds of other low-cost, low-wage cities (that are not part of an MSA) throughout the state.

In other words, a one-size-fits-all minimum wage for all 500 cities in California is really a “one-size-fits-none” minimum wage, and will inflict very serious and long-lasting economic damage in most parts of the state outside of the large metro areas on the coast (LA, San Francisco, and San Diego).

The clumsy, top-down, ham-handed approach of government imposed wage controls like a $15 an hour statewide minimum wage in California, without allowing for any adjustments to accommodate the significant differences in cost-of-living and labor market conditions, is one of the main reasons the Golden State’s risky experiment with a $15 wage will likely backfire and be “not-so-golden” in practice.

In contrast, one of the significant advantages of market-determined wages is that they can naturally and automatically adjust to the market conditions of local areas. For example, we might expect that the starting wages for national chains like McDonald’s (1,165 stores in California) and Starbucks (2,000 locations) would vary around the state of California based on local labor market conditions and the local cost-of-living, and would be higher in San Francisco than in cities like El Centro.

But a government mandated price control like the $15 an hour uniform minimum wage in California that outlaws adjustments to fit the customized needs of the 500 individual city-level labor markets in the state is a public policy destined to fail — especially in the state’s low-wage, low cost-of-living cities with high jobless rates that are the most vulnerable to the “one-size-fits-none” awkwardness and clumsiness that is the $15 statewide minimum wage in California.

Related: See my article with AEI colleague Andrew Biggs titled “A National Minimum Wage Is a Bad Fit for Low-Cost Communities.

Bonus Question: I included the living wages above that MIT calculated would be necessary to support an adult-headed household with either one, two or three children so that I could feature the question posed below by Georgetown University professor Jason Brennan at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog in his post titled “Some Questions for Living Wage Advocates” (h/t Don Boudreaux):

If you believe employers owe employees a living wage, do you think that an employer has a moral duty to pay an employee more just because [he or] she has more children?

Reprinted with the permission of the American Enterprise Institute.

Mark J. PerryMark J. Perry

Mark J. Perry is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.

Americans’ Incomes Are Unequal, But Mobile by Chelsea German

Americans often move between different income brackets over the course of their lives. As covered in an earlier blog post, over 50 percent of Americans find themselves among the top 10 percent of income-earners for at least one year during their working lives, and over 11 percent of Americans will be counted among the top 1 percent of income-earners for at least one year.

Fortunately, a great deal of what explains this income mobility are choices that are largely within an individual’s control. While people tend to earn more in their “prime earning years” than in their youth or old age, other key factors that explain income differences are education level, marital status, and number of earners per household. As Mark Perry recently wrote:

The good news is that the key demographic factors that explain differences in household income are not fixed over our lifetimes and are largely under our control (e.g. staying in school and graduating, getting and staying married, etc.), which means that individuals and households are not destined to remain in a single income quintile forever.

According to the economist Thomas Sowell, whom Perry cites, “Most working Americans, who were initially in the bottom 20% of income-earners, rise out of that bottom 20%. More of them end up in the top 20% than remain in the bottom 20%.”

While people move between income groups over their lifetime, many worry that income inequality between different income groups is increasing. The growing income inequality is real, but its causes are more complex than the demagogues make them out to be.

Consider, for example, the effect of “power couples,” or people with high levels of education marrying one another and forming dual-earner households. In a free society, people can marry whoever they want, even if it does contribute to widening income disparities.

Or consider the effects of regressive government regulations on exacerbating income inequality. These include barriers to entry that protect incumbent businesses and stifle competition. To name one extreme example, Louisiana recently required a government-issued license to become a florist.

Lifting more of these regressive regulations would aid income mobility and help to reduce income inequality, while also furthering economic growth.

This post first appeared at HumanProgress.org.

Chelsea GermanChelsea German

Chelsea German works at the Cato Institute as a Researcher and Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.

What Are Your Odds of Making It to the 1%? by Chelsea German

Your odds of “making it to the top” might be better than you think, although it’s tough to stay on top once you get there.

According to research from Cornell University, over 50 percent of Americans find themselves among the top 10 percent of income-earners for at least one year during their working lives. Over 11 percent of Americans will be counted among the top 1 percent of income-earners (i.e., people making at minimum $332,000) for at least one year.

How is this possible? Simple: the rate of turnover in these groups is extremely high.

Just how high? Some 94 percent of Americans who reach “top 1 percent” income status will enjoy it for only a single year. Approximately 99 percent will lose their “top 1 percent” status within a decade.

Now consider the top 400 U.S. income-earners — a far more exclusive club than the top 1 percent. Between 1992 and 2013, 72 percent of the top 400 retained that title for no more than a year. Over 97 percent retained it for no more than a decade.

HumanProgress.org advisory board member Mark Perry put it well in his recent blog post on this subject:

Whenever we hear commentary about the top or bottom income quintiles, or the top or bottom X% of Americans by income (or the Top 400 taxpayers), a common assumption is that those are static, closed, private clubs with very little dynamic turnover. …

But economic reality is very different — people move up and down the income quintiles and percentile groups throughout their careers and lives.

What if we look at economic mobility in terms of accumulated wealth, instead of just annual income (as the latter tends to fluctuate more)?

The Forbes 400 lists the wealthiest Americans by total estimated net worth, regardless of their income during any given year. Over 71 percent of Forbes 400 listees — and their heirs — lost their top 400 status between 1982 and 2014.

So, the next time you find yourself discussing the very richest Americans, whether by wealth or income, keep in mind the extraordinarily high rate of turnover among them.

And even if you never become one of the 11.1 percent of Americans who fleetingly find themselves in the “top 1 percent” of US income-earners, you’re still quite possibly part of the global top 1 percent.

Cross-posted from HumanProgress.org.

Chelsea German

Chelsea German

Chelsea German works at the Cato Institute as a Researcher and Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.

Busting Myths about Income Inequality by Chelsea German

Politicians speak often about income inequality. But that doesn’t mean they are well-informed. Indeed, they propagate four myths about the issue.

  1. Most often, those vying for elected office describe income inequality as static — as though the people who make up each income group do not change.
    The “top 1 percent” or the “top 10 percent” of income-earners are portrayed as exclusive clubs that seldom accept new members or see old and current members leave. No fluidity, no change.
  2. Political figures also have a tendency only to blame income inequality on factors like trade, immigration, an insufficiently high minimum wage, inadequate taxes on the wealthy, or the vague concept of “greed.”
  3. They typically ignore the sizeable role of choices under an individual’s control.
  4. They downplay the role of regressive government regulations.

Reality is much more interesting than soundbites.

Americans often move between different income brackets over the course of their lives. Indeed, over 50 percent of Americans find themselves among the top 10 percent of income-earners for at least one year during their working lives, and over 11 percent of Americans will be counted among the top 1 percent of income-earners for at least one year.

Fortunately, a great deal of what explains this income mobility are choices that are largely within an individual’s control. While people tend to earn more in their “prime earning years” than in their youth or old age, other key factors that explain income differences are education level, marital status, and number of earners per household. As AEI’s Mark Perry recently wrote:

The good news is that the key demographic factors that explain differences in household income are not fixed over our lifetimes and are largely under our control (e.g. staying in school and graduating, getting and staying married, etc.), which means that individuals and households are not destined to remain in a single income quintile forever.

According to the U.S. economist Thomas Sowell, whom Perry cites, “Most working Americans, who were initially in the bottom 20 percent of income-earners, rise out of that bottom 20 percent. More of them end up in the top 20 percent than remain in the bottom 20 percent.”

While people move between income groups over their lifetime, many worry that income inequality between different income groups is increasing. The growing income inequality is real, but its causes are more complex than the demagogues make them out to be.

Consider, for example, the effect of “power couples,” or people with high levels of education marrying one another and forming dual-earner households. In a free society, people can marry whoever they want, even if it does contribute to widening income disparities.

Or consider the effects of regressive government regulations on exacerbating income inequality. These include barriers to entry that protect incumbent businesses and stifle competition. To name one extreme example, Louisiana recently required a government-issued license to become a florist. Lifting more of these regressive regulations would aid income mobility and help to reduce income inequality, while also furthering economic growth.

If our elections were more about the substance of serious public policy issues, rather than demagoguery and soundbites, achieving reasonable solutions could move from the land of make-believe to our complex, dynamic reality.

This article first appeared at CapX.

Chelsea GermanChelsea German

Chelsea German works at the Cato Institute as a Researcher and Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.

What Can the Rich Afford that Average Americans Can’t? by Donald J. Boudreaux

Raffi Melkonian asks — as relayed by my colleague Tyler Cowen — “When can median income consumers afford the very best?”

Tyler offers a list of some of the items in the modern, market-oriented world that are as high-quality as such items get and yet are easily affordable to ordinary people. This list includes iPhones, books, and rutabagas. Indeed, this list includes nearly all foods for use in preparing home snacks and meals. I doubt very much that Bill Gates and Larry Ellison munch at home on foods — such as carrots, blueberries, peanuts, and scrambled eggs — that an ordinary American cannot easily afford to enjoy at home.

This list includes also non-prescription pain relievers, most other first-aid medicines and devices such as Band-Aids, and personal-hygiene products such as toothpaste, dental floss, and toilet paper. (I once saw a billionaire take two Bayer aspirin — the identical pain reliever that I use.) This list includes also gasoline and diesel. Probably also contact lenses.

A slightly different list can be drawn up in response to this question: When can median-income consumers afford products that, while not as high-quality as those versions that are bought by the super-rich, are nevertheless virtually indistinguishable — because they are quite close in quality — to the naked eye from those versions bought by the super-rich?

On this list would be most clothing. For example, an ordinary American man can today afford a suit that, while it’s neither tailor-made nor of a fabric as fine as are suits that I suspect are worn by most billionaires, is nevertheless close enough in fit and fabric quality to be indistinguishable by the naked eye from expensive suits worn by billionaires. (I suspect that the same is true for women’s clothing, but I’m less expert on that topic.)

Ditto for shoes, underwear, haircuts, corrective eye-wear, collars for dogs and cats, pet food, household bath towels and “linens,” tableware and cutlery, automobile tires, hand tools, most household furniture, and wristwatches.

(You’d have to get physically very close to someone wearing a Patek Philippe — and you’d have to know what a Patek Philippe is — in order to determine that that person’s wristwatch is one that you, an ordinary American, can’t afford. And you could stare at that Patek Philippe for months without detecting any superiority that it might have over your quartz-powered Timex at keeping time.)

Coffee. Tea. Beer. Wine. (There is available today a large selection of very good wines at affordable prices. These wines almost never rise to the quality of Chateau Petrus, d’yquem, or the best Montrachets, but the differences are often quite small and barely distinguishable save by true connoisseurs.)

Indeed, the more one ponders this question relayed by Tyler, the more one suspects that the shorter list would be one drawn up in response to this question: When can high-income consumers afford what median-income consumers cannot?

Such a list, of course, would be far from empty. It would include private air travel, beachfront homes, regular vacations in Tahiti and Davos, private suites at sports arenas, luxury automobiles, rooms at the Ritz, original Picassos and Warhols. (It would, by the way, include also invitations to White House dinners and private lunches with rent-creating senators, governors, and mayors.)

But I’ll bet that this latter list would be shorter than one made up in response to the question relayed by Tyler combined with one drawn up in response to the question that I pose above in the third paragraph (call this list “the combined list”).

And whether shorter or not, what other germane characteristics might distinguish the items on this last list from the combined list?

A version of this post first appeared at Cafe Hayek.

Donald J. BoudreauxDonald J. Boudreaux

Donald Boudreaux is asenior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University and, a former FEE president.

D.C. Is Artificial by Richard Lorenc

As a part of my job, I travel to Washington, DC, fairly often. (More and more, it seems like everyone’s business is centered in that place.)

The monuments and museums are impressive, and the city life is vibrant, but I can never shake the feeling that the nation’s capital is a fake city.

Compare Washington to Chicago, America’s “second city” and my favorite.

It’s not that my trips there are bad. I see a lot of friends and colleagues, meet new people, and usually have pleasant and productive meetings. I’ve enjoyed walking around Georgetown, and I even got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitol Building by a friend who works there.

Rather, it’s that, as a city, DC is a place removed from reality. It’s a dream world, where the main economy really is zero-sum, and where people who work for, around, or on government are required to avoid practicing politeness.

Allow me to contrast DC with Chicago along three dimensions: geography, economy, and society.

Chicago exists where it does because it is accessible by water routes. The Chicago River, Lake Michigan, and others made it easier for people and goods to locate to this spot many decades ago.

The District of Columbia, although it too is located on a river, is situated where it is because of a political compromise between the North and the South. It sits between Virginia and Maryland so that no one geographic faction could too easily commandeer the levers of the federal government. DC was not located where it is because that place was the best place to build a city where people wanted to live or make things. It was spawned from contentious political wrangling over issues such as slavery.

Ask yourself whether so many people would live in the DC area were it not for all the power we’ve ceded to the federal government. Chicago, on the other hand, exists because its location offered unique advantages to people engaged in serving their fellow man. Washington is sited through human design; Chicago through human action.

Then there are the cities’ economic differences. Chicago’s economy was based originally on commodities such as fur and meat. It moved to manufacturing, printing, and trading to become the center of finance, banking, and education it is today. Each of these industries emerged locally because people specializing in them here made their services valuable to others. The city’s economy changed because people stopped needing fur so much, meat became cheaper to produce elsewhere, and Chicago was no longer the best place for manufacturing.

Chicago’s economy adapted and evolved according to the demands of others, while Washington’s has not. Its economy has largely remained static, unchanging, and uncreative. That’s not to say its economy hasn’t grown — per capita income in the DC area is now highest among the 50 states, by far. This is because the federal government has amassed more and more power, money, and human capital as the years have passed.

Some time ago, I hadn’t been to DC for a few years, and when I returned, I was shocked at how many ads I saw that aimed to persuade people in power to use your money and mine to fund private energy and agricultural companies. Unlike Chicago, Washington’s economy is not based on creating true value for others. Rather, it is based on redistributing the wealth of the country and skimming some from the top. That skimming represents billions of dollars of wasted resources that might have been used to grow the economic pie had they remained available to those who create value, rather than fueling the ambitions of lobbyists, politicians, and government staffers.

But the most important contrast between Washington and an organic American city: society. Although five of Chicago’s top six employers are government entities, most people and businesses here don’t make their livings by dipping into a Niagara Falls of tax revenues.

That means business dealings are done much more on the basis of voluntary decisions. People expect to receive something valuable when they decide freely whether to exchange their money for something else. Likewise, the seller accepts the buyer’s money because it is worth more to him than what he is peddling. If either condition isn’t met, these people won’t meet again. But when they are met — which is every time you buy a coffee from Starbucks — you have the opportunity to practice politeness with someone with whom you may have never interacted otherwise.

Voluntary exchange gives us the chance to act decently with people of different backgrounds and opinions. Of course, there is voluntary exchange in DC, and there are many opportunities for people to behave civilly outside of their work: concerts, museums, theatre, sports. But given that Washington’s primary industry is government, these opportunities occur with less frequency there.

For example, if I am a staffer who works for Senator Red and you are one who works for Senator Blue, it’s likely we’ll regard the other with suspicion or contempt if we ever meet. Because government can only redistribute wealth created elsewhere, the government-centric economy really is zero-sum: if you win, I lose. Although some of this exists everywhere that government takes from some to give to others, it is most acute in Washington.

I admire the ornate buildings and monuments in Washington as much as anyone else. They’re impressive feats of artistic and architectural expression. They remind us of our history. In those ways, they are valuable. But I am saddened when I think about how they inspire reverence toward government power as the means solve every problem.

DC is an artificial city. Chicago is real.

Richard LorencRichard Lorenc

Richard N. Lorenc is the Chief Operating Officer of FEE and Publisher of the Freeman.