Income Stagnation and Being Green

by Paula Apynys for The Economy

Per the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey Briefs 2012 Report (based on figures from January 2011 through November 2012) the median household income in the U.S. in 2011 was $51,324 and in 2012 was $51,371.

The word “median” is important here, it means that

  • 50% of American households earned less than $51,000+ and
  • 50% of American households earned more than $51,000+. (The report defined households as the combined income of everyone living in the house over the age of 15, whether or not they were related.)
  • Which means the individuals in the household each made less than $51,000+.

Per this article: How Much Do Americans Earn “when we dig into Social Security records…the average per capita wage is $26,000.”

Per the same Census Bureau report, the median income in Ohio households in 2011 was $46,610 and in 2012 was $46,829. (In the year 2000 the median income in Ohio was $52,777 so there has been a drop in the last decade.)

In 2012, per the Social Security Administration,

  • 92% of  individual Americans made less than $100,000;
  • 74+% made less than $50,000,
  • 53% of Americans made less than $30,000,
  • and almost 40% made less than $20,000 a year.
  • Some 8% of Americans made the big bucks — exceeding $100,000 —
  • and the really really big bucks, over $20 million, was made by 894 individuals. 

Obviously these numbers are subject to change but I bet the figures for 2013 will be close. Currently raising the minimum wage is under consideration and I think it is necessary, but I don’t think it is sufficient. I think most Americans need a raise. We’ve needed a raise for years, in fact. Numerous studies show that wages in the U.S. have been flat for over 40 years. That might not be as clear as it should be to a lot of us because we don’t discuss earnings with one another much, but I’m quite sure most of us are keenly aware that expenses have gone up and up and up. 

A lot of other things have been going up too — things like insecurity, cynicism, apathy, vitriol and polarization. There are a number of reasons for these upticks, only one of which is income stagnation, but I think income stagnation is the root problem, from which many other problems spring. It’s a problem I’ve been researching for awhile now and will be posting about going forward.

You may be wondering what income stagnation has to do with green living and environmentalism? I think the challenge we face with respect to protecting the environment is primarily economic: so many people are desperate for steady and well-paying work that they will support a variety of environmentally harmful practices in exchange for a decent paycheck (or just the possibility of a paycheck).

We have to develop an economic approach that supports people as well as the natural world and that won’t happen if the only option people have is to pollute and degrade in order to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. We have to get this stuff out on the table and talk it out and start making decisions that work for both today and the future.

We have to rethink our economy; we have to engage in some optimism and creativity and most of all, we have to start believing we can change things for the better. It irks me to no end that so many of our leaders treat the American economy as though it was a force of nature rather than an entirely human construct. Economies are simply collections of rules. Application of rules create outcomes; change the rules and you change the outcomes. 

Of course, we have to decide what outcomes are desired. 

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