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Economy: Treading water at the median

October 20, 2011 |  3:20 pm

Chamber of Commerce
The Social Security Administration provided a dispassionate look at incomes in America this week, releasing its wage statistics report for 2010. Median income -- the amount that half of Americans earn more than, and half earn less than -- was an estimated $26,363.55. That's a little more than it was in 2009, but not enough to keep pace with inflation. 

In other words, individuals on the lower half of the income ladder have less buying power in 2010 than they did in 2009. In fact, it's less buying power than in any year since 1999, according to Reuters' David Cay Johnston. The huge number of workers who went weeks or months without a full-time job helped depress both the median and the average U.S. compensation, which was $39,959.30 in 2010, up from $39,054.62 in 2009.

The figures represent individual wages, not household income; according to the Census Bureau, the latter was $50,221 in 2009, almost twice the median annual wage that year. Still, the real decline in income for the median wage-earner since 1999 speaks of a lost decade for those Americans.

That helps explain, I think, the widespread frustration with government at both ends of the political spectrum. Millions of Americans feel like they're treading water, and nothing Washington does seems to help. The statistics bear that out for the population in general, even if they don't tell you much about individual families' upward and downward mobility. 

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Photo: Banners on the facade of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. Credit: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

 

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