One of the favorite memes of the Left is Income Inequality. They tell us that over the recent years the wealthy, the top 10%, have seen their salaries increase by a greater margin than the poor, the bottom 10%. But is that true?
I heard an NPR story the other day that went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to answer that question and here is what they found.
“So, for example, this morning I searched BLS, OES, bricklayers. And I learned that there are 50,000 some-odd bricklayers and blocklayers, which I didn’t even know is a profession, and that high-paid bricklayers and blocklayers make four times as much as the low-paid ones do. It’s about 80,000 to 20,000 or so.”
“And when I go back in time using the BLS website, I see that 10 years ago the ratio was closer to 3-to-1. So the ratio between the highest paid and the lowest paid has been growing steadily. I saw the same thing with actuaries, with embalmers, people who embalm bodies at funeral homes. I saw it with dental surgeons, with low-paid dental surgeons making far less than high-paid ones. I saw it particularly strikingly with journalists. And throughout, I saw the same trend. The top 10 percent make roughly four times as much as the bottom 10 percent.”
I decided to verify the work by NPR and used the following two websites to get income data from 2012 and compare it to 2001. The 2012 site is here and the 2002 site is here (check my work and do this yourself, it’s fun!).
The BLS data publishes average wages for 5 different percentiles (10, 25, 50, 75 and 90) and I calculated the percent change for each of these percentile groups (2012 vs. 2002) and if there is a true income inequality then the percent change in the higher incomes will be more than the percent change in the lower incomes. Simple math, right?
This NPR report was totally wrong! The ratio of wages for the 90%tile compared to the wages for the 10%tile was 2.65 in 2002 and 2.69 in 2012 – hardly any change! While it’s true that the wage increase for those in the middle didn’t keep pace with those in the upper and lower ends, you can’t claim that the wealthy had more of an increase than the poor when looking at this Brick and Block Mason data.
That got me to wondering about other professions so here is the data from others that I chose at random. I’ll just report the findings graphically to save space on here but you can look at the detailed tables as well as the BLS job code listed in this spreadsheet so you can verify my findings on the BLS website.
Let’s first look at a profession that is near and dear to my heart – Electrical Engineering.
Sure enough, this data show that there was an income inequality between the higher paid EE’s and lower paid EE’s during this 10 year period. See the black line that shows the percent change in wages for each of the percentile groups and the slope upwards indicates that those at the upper wage range saw bigger increases than those in the lower ranges during the time period 2002 to 2012.
There were other professions that followed this same pattern:
Then there were others that showed equal wage growth between all percentile groups or at least between the bottom 10%tile and the top 90%tile.
I found the data for Elementary and Secondary School Teachers very interesting. Their data would totally blow the income inequality meme out of the water because the lower wage earners saw larger increases than the higher paid teachers.
And this one really floored me. It appears the profession to be in during the past 10 years was HR Management. Like the teachers, lower wage HR managers saw a much bigger increase than their colleagues at the top. Also, while the other professions I spot checked saw, on average, wage increases of around 35%, HR managers experienced twice that increase over the past 10 years.
Granted this is not a comprehensive look at all professions in the massive BLS data but I’ve seen enough to 1) discredit the NPR story and 2) cast serious doubt that we truly have a comprehensive income inequality problem in the US.