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The Rise of Inequality for All: New report shows Washington residents more likely to face downward economic mobility
Stagnated wages and declining social insurance programs are diminishing economic opportunity for Washington’s working families
Seattle | A new report from the Economic Opportunity Institute highlights a crisis of economic inequality in Washington state, brought on by ever-higher barriers to upward economic mobility for middle-class and low-income workers – including stagnating wages, declining workplace benefits, underemployment and low retirement savings.
“Through the middle part of the 20th century, the American economy grew, workers became more productive and working families across the economic spectrum enjoyed rising standards of living. A prosperous middle-class grew as the result of policies that invested in public goods and shared prosperity,” stated Tatsuko Go Hollo, a policy associate at EOI and the report’s author. “Today that trend is moving in reverse.”
The report notes that only one-third of Americans experience upward economic mobility, and another third experience downward economic mobility. In Washington, however, residents are more likely to fall down the economic ladder: 32 percent of Washington residents experiencing downward mobility compared to 28 percent nationally.
The biggest driver of downward economic mobility is low job growth in middle-class, family- wage jobs. According to the report, overall job growth has been strong over the past decade – expanding by 34 percent from 1990 to 2012, compared to 22 percent nationally. But growth has been concentrated at the very top and very bottom rungs of the economy. High-income tech jobs have grown immensely, but low-income jobs – in sectors like food service, accommodation and hospitality/leisure – are outpacing overall job growth. In those low-wage sectors, jobs grew by 45 percent from 1990 to 2012, compared to total nonfarm job growth of 34 percent over the same period. Without middle-income jobs, income disparity has widened over the past half-century.
The crisis of widening income inequality has been compounded by uneven wage growth in the top percent of income earners. Middle-class and low-income workers have seen stagnated wages over more than three decades. However, those in the top 10 percent have experienced a 31 percent increase in hourly wages. The top 20 percent of income earners are the only workers who have experienced increased wages since the start of the Great Recession.
Go Hollo says it doesn’t have to be this way. “By focusing on policies that create opportunities for upward economic mobility, lawmakers in Olympia can strengthen the middle class, and build a stronger and more prosperous economy for Washington’s working families. That means strengthening the minimum wage, supporting healthy workers through paid sick days and family leave plans, and creating retirement savings opportunities for low-income earners through universal retirement savings accounts.”
Full report available online at: http://www.eoionline.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/Economic-Mobility-in-Washington-Jan15-web.pdf
The Economic Opportunity Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy center dedicated to building an economy that works – for everyone. Learn more: www.eoionline.org.
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