Feb 28

President Obama recently called for an increase in the minimum wage, from the current $7.25 to $9.00 per hour. I found two charts to be of interest in furthering this discussion. First, the minimum wage as a percent of poverty level income.


This graph helps illustrate how those earning only minimum wage have failed to keep up with inflation and from a high of 90% of poverty level income are now closer to 60%. I’m not suggesting the minimum wage should be a particular fraction of poverty level income, just observing this graph goes in the wrong direction.

I know that there’s a strong case to be made for higher minimum wages resulting in the loss of jobs, although the data supporting this is a bit sketchy. I’d like to offer one more graph to show why I feel this way.


We are talking about just 2% of workers. Had the minimum wage tracked inflation, adjusted annually, businesses would have planned for it and dealt with the cost each year the same as they deal with rising fuel bills or any other component of their costs. With half of these workers being under 24, and not necessarily family breadwinners, we shouldn’t forget the half who are.

I remember a $3.10 minimum wage. It was enough to have pocket money as a teen. And it was awkward working side by side with those who were lifers, people who did this not for beer money, but to pay their bills. Keep in mind, if you look at $3.10 in 1980, it inflation-adjusts to $8.50 in 2012.

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Jun 21

Last week we looked at A Drop in Most American’s Net Worth. Indeed, the median was down by 39% and the average, just under 15%. This was for the three year period from 2007-2010. Now, let’s look at income over the same period.

Charts are nice, but let me spell out the numbers, the median (half make more, half less) family income dropped by 7.7%, while the mean (average) fell 11%. This means that higher income earners income fell more than lower income earners reversing the 2004-2007 trend. The average family in the top 10% of earners saw their income fall by just over 16%. It was a tough period and the downturn hit all of us. For more numbers, sorted by age, education, and more check out the full report titled Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2007 to 2010: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances.

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Nov 15

In this past Sunday’s roundup I cited Bargaineering’s post which discussed a guy who had trouble on a million dollar income.

I missed the original article when it was posted a year ago, Getting By on $1,000,000 a Year, by James Altucher. In his article he discusses how his friend (Mike) just had a million dollar year, yet  sounded like he was in dire straights. Forget for a moment that half the world lives on less than $850/day. Or that half the families in the US “survive” on less than $50,000/yr. I was inclined to simply dismiss this as someone living beyond his means, and I’m still on the fence about that.

Here’s where things started to get pretty crazy. Half the income was in deferred compensation. So, $500K isn’t his until it vests over a five year period. Still, the remaining $500K should to enough to get by on, even in New York City. Now is when his (and his wife’s) lifestyle gets in the way. $50K to a summer rental? $60K for private school? $60K per year for his mortgage? Yes, it’s actually possible to blow through a half million dollars with no jet and no yachts. Living in Manhattan, he doesn’t even mention a car, and probably doesn’t have one. Still, he’s living beyond his means, obviously.

What did hit me was one final point he made. That he works 70 hours a week. I’d not want to work that many hours a week for the whole million. Really. Time with my family is too precious. My daughter is now 13 and five year from this summer she’ll be off to college. Income has a rapidly diminishing marginal return for me. By that I mean I don’t mind the occasional business trip or evening function, but I’d not want to give up my evenings on a regular basis for any price. When she’s off to college I might feel otherwise, but for now I’ll listen to her stories of classmates whose fathers never seem to be around. I’m not a big sport fan, but put my daughter on a basketball court and I’m there. As far as Mike is concerned – it’s for him, his wife, and their three shrinks to figure out what’s going to bring him happiness.

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Jul 13

I’ve always been intrigued by data, statistics, and how the numbers are interpreted.

I look at this chart of inflation-adjusted median income and it seems we have stagnated the last dozen years or so. Over the 42 years represented in this chart, real income has increased by less than 25%, or about 1/2%/yr compounded over that period. I don’t know which aspect of this chart I find more disturbing, the racial disparity that seems to go along with no solution, or the lack of a major rise sourced from the productivity gains we were supposed to see as we became more reliant on robots and electronics. This productivity should have spilled into all our paychecks. Want to look at this chart’s source? See Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009

written by Joe