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Monday, December 13, 2004

Peter Gosselin on Economic Insecurity In USA

Brad Delong points to Peter Gosselin's article where Peter highlightsrising economic risks in America today. Excerpts:

Protections that Americans, especially poor ones, once relied on to buffer them from economic setbacks--affordable housing, stable jobs with good benefits, union membership and the backstop of cash welfare - have shriveled or been eliminated. These losses have been only partially offset by an expansion of programs such as the earned-income tax credit for the working poor and publicly provided healthcare.For the most part, the poor have been left to cope on their own, scrambling from one fragile employment arrangement to the next, doubling up on housing and borrowing heavily. "Families up and down the income distribution are bearing more economic risk than they did 25 or 30 years ago," said Johns Hopkins University economist Robert A. Moffitt. "But the increase has been especially dramatic among the working poor."As a result, their earnings are jumping around like never before.

During the early 1970s, the inflation-adjusted incomes of most families in the bottom fifth of the economy bounced up and down no more than 25% a year. By the beginning of this decade, those annual fluctuations had doubled to as much as 50%, according to statistics generated by the Los Angeles Times in conjunction with Moffitt and researchers at several other major universities. For a family with an income at the 20th percentile--or roughly $23,000 a year in inflation-adjusted terms--that has meant recent annual swings of as much as $12,000. Twenty-five years ago, those swings tended to be no more than $4,300.

In contrast to most economic indicators, which involve taking random samples of different Americans at different times and comparing the results, the panel study has followed the same 5,000 nationally representative families and their offshoots for nearly 40 years. In supplementing conventional statistics with the panel-study data, the newspaper has sought to explain why Americans in rising numbers report being less financially secure, even as the nation has grown richer overall...
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