If so many people are out of work and on the edge of eviction or foreclosure, how come we are not seeing more evidence of economic disaster? The answer is disturbing. And simple.
It’s all about income. If your income is modest and you lose your job, it has a devastating effect on you personally. But maybe only you.
It’s just the opposite when the job losses start at the top. If you make the big bucks and your job goes away, odds are lots of other people will feel your pain. They will know your income is gone because it won’t become part of their income.
Think about it. If you are doing well and suddenly lose your job, your travel agent may be the first person to know. You cancel your regular vacation in the islands. You eat out less. You delay buying things.
Lots of regular spending gets slowed or suspended altogether. If gains in income “trickle down,” so do losses of income.
It comes down to a simple principle: The greater the difference is between the highest and lowest incomes, the greater the impact if those at the top lose their income. And the lesser the impact if those at the bottom lose theirs.
A close look at their figures on the distribution of income among American taxpayers tells us a lot.
Back in 2001, the top 10% of earners received 42.5% of all income. The bottom 50% received 14.4%. In 2017, the most recent year for which the IRS has figures, the top 10% received 47.74% of all income. The bottom 50% received 11.25% of all income.
The entry income required to be in the top 10% of earners in 2017 was $145,135. Income below $41,740 put you in the bottom 50%.
Now let’s translate those figures into losses of income for the economy. If 20% of all workers in the bottom 50% of earners lose their jobs, unemployment would be 10%. A 10% unemployment rate hits hard. But the loss in purchasing power is only 2.25%.
That’s not a big number. It wouldn’t mean much for the 90% of all workers who remained employed.
If job loss comes from the “have” side, the impact is far greater. If 20% of all workers in the top 10% lose their jobs, unemployment would be only 2%. But purchasing power would decrease by 9.54%. That’s about four times as great an impact on the economy. None of this is a surprise. It’s just arithmetic.
While there have been job losses in most of our economy, they have been concentrated in sectors with relatively low wages: leisure and hospitality, restaurants, bars, health services and retail trade.
The problem is that what’s simple arithmetic to a “have” is an existential threat to a “have-not.”