Low Wages and the Hidden Cost to Taxpayers

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Speaking on a CNNMoney panel on inequality in September, Berkley professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich highlighted the lopsided spread of wealth in the United States with this factoid: “The 400 richest people in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 150 million put together.”

If this degree of inequality seems gross, buckle up, because it’s getting worse. In 2012, median household income in the U.S. was $51,017 per year, down from $51,100 in 2011 and 8.3 percent below where it was in 2007 before the financial crisis brought the American economy to its knees. In 2010, headline unemployment hit 10 percent and the poverty rate (as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau) peaked at a recent high of 15.1 percent, a level from which it has hardly fallen.

Meanwhile, according to a report from the University of California Berkley, those incomes at the top 1 percent of earners increased 31.4 percent between 2009 and 2012, compared to just 0.4 percent among the bottom 99 percent (this factoid was surely a slogan of the Occupy movement.) As much as 95 percent of all income gains made from 2009 to 2012 were made at the top 1 percent of the earning population.

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