3 Charts Showing How Middle-Class Incomes Continue to Stagnate While Overall Inequality Grows

Job applicants wait for the opening of a job fair held by National Career Fairs in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, September 17, 2012.

New Census Bureau data released today further highlight the economic challenges faced by today’s middle class. As U.S. household incomes further declined in 2012, families in the middle class continued to watch their share of the national economic pie stagnate at record-low levels and see those at the very top disproportionately claim the little income growth that has occurred since the end of the Great Recession.

The following three charts present these latest Census figures in a historical context and illustrate the extent to which the middle class has struggled to make headway in an increasingly unequal economy.

While middle-class households suffered deeply during the Great Recession, the underlying trends that have left them increasingly excluded from the nation’s economic growth date back much further than 2007. The typical American household’s annual income peaked in 1999 and has since declined by 9 percent, while the share of the nation’s total income going to the middle class has been falling since topping out at 53.2 percent in 1968. What economic growth has occurred in recent years has been distributed more and more unequally, with the wealthiest households—and the super-rich in particular—claiming almost all of the income gains seen in the past three years as the middle class has fallen further behind.

To get the middle class back on its feet, Congress must take action to help put more Americans back to work and ensure that the jobs we are creating are high-quality jobs that sustain the middle class. The United States needs a vibrant and prosperous middle class to spur economic growth. While the trends of the past several decades may take time to reverse, we must take action to do so if the economy of tomorrow is to truly work for all Americans and not just those at the very top.

David Madland is Director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Keith Miller is a Research Assistant with the American Worker Project.