Labor Advocate Online
Labor Day Special

The Condition of the Working Class in the USA Today–Looking At Some Numbers

(Taken largely from recent reports by the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Economic Policy Institute)

Some Miscellaneous Facts About the Working Class
147.9 million strong.
10.3 million are self-employed.
7.3 million hold down more than one job.
28 percent work more than forty hours a week. Eight percent work 60 or more hours per week.
Median time on the job with present employer–3.7 years.
21 percent get no paid vacation or holidays.

Since "recovery" began in 2002 productivity of American workers has shot up 11.1 percent. Total worker compensation—all wages and benefits—has nudged up only 3.4 percent. The average weekly wage of $525.84 is at the lowest level since October 2001.

The inflation-adjusted income of the nation's median household fell slightly in 2003, from $43,381 to $43,318. Since 2000, the median household income has declined consistently in real terms, down $971, $502, and $63 in 2001, 2002, and 2003, respectively, for a cumulative loss of $1,535—a 3.4 percent drop—over these years.

Income inequality has also increased, both in the past year and to a greater degree over the recession and jobless recovery. The figure below shows the change in real household income for various percentiles over two time periods: 2000-03 and the last year, 2002-03. Low-income households—those with incomes that place them at the 20th percentile of earners—have experienced income declines of 6.0 percent since 2003 and 1.9 percent since last year. The median household (the 50th percentile) is down 3.4 percent since 2000 and essentially unchanged (down just 0.1 percent) between 2002 and 2003. Upper income households, with incomes at the 95th percentile (i.e., only 5 percent of families have higher incomes) have been relatively flat over this full period.

Losses since 2000 have been particularly sharp for minority families. The real median household income of African American families is down 6.3 percent in the 2000-03 period, while that of Hispanic families is down 6.9 percent.

Sinking Into Poverty
You have to be really poor to fit the government definition of poverty—the average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2003 was $18,810; for a family of three, $14,680; for a family of two, $12,015; and for individuals, $9,393. The number of people below the official poverty thresholds numbered 35.9 million in 2003—1.3 million more than in 2002—for a 2003 poverty rate of 12.5 percent.

Health Insurance
The share of the population with health insurance declined last year, with 45 million persons—15.6 percent of the population—going without coverage in 2003, compared to 15.2 percent in 2002. This increase in the uninsured was largely due to less employer-provided coverage, another indication of deteriorating job quality in 2003.
For more info go to Labor Party Just Health Care campaign.

Housing Costs
Three years ago, the national median price of existing single family homes in metropolitan areas was 147,800 dollars. Today that figure is 183,000. Rents have risen sharply as well. The national housing wage—based on what a worker working forty hours a week would have to earn for rent of a fair market two bed room apartment, without exceeding the traditional standard of thirty percent of total income—climbed from $13.87 per hour in 2001 to $15.21 currently. Remember: today’s average wage is 13.15, the minimum wage 5.15.

Higher Education
Working class kids are being priced out of college. Tuition costs have been rising faster than inflation and are projected to skyrocket in coming years. Due to cutbacks in state funding (the primary revenue source for public colleges), many public colleges are projecting tuition increases in the double digits and cuts in need-based financial aid programs. In general, public institutions cost less than private ones, but tuition and fees have increased nearly tenfold (in inflation-adjusted dollars) between 1969 and 1999. Average tuition and fees at public four-year institutions rose from $338 to $3,243 during that time. Private four-year college tuition now averages over $14,000 a year. For more info go to the Labor Party Free Higher Ed campaign.

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