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Broad-Based Wage Growth Is a Key Tool in the Fight Against Poverty | Economic Policy Institute
"Over the last three-and-a-half decades, progress in reducing poverty has been painfully slow despite significant gains in economic productivity and average incomes. During the same time period, the inflation-adjusted wages of most low- and middle-income households have been essentially stagnant, which is the root cause of rising income inequality.

A primary objective of the Economic Policy Institute’s Raising America’s Pay initiative is to expose the roots of growing inequality and demonstrate inequality’s real, adverse effects on low- and middle-income households (Bivens et al. 2014). In this paper, we explore how wage stagnation and growing inequality have undermined progress in reducing poverty.

Between 1979 and 2013, hourly wage growth stagnated for the vast majority—even while those at the bottom relied increasingly heavily on their wages to make ends meet. At the same time, the vast majority of annual earnings increases for the bottom fifth were due to increasing work hours, not rising hourly wages. Income inequality over this period also increased—largely due to stagnant wages for low- and middle-income households—and became the single most important factor in the increase in poverty.

To show the significance of wage growth in reducing poverty, we simulate what would have happened to poverty rates had we experienced broad-based wage growth from 1979 to 2013. We first examine the effects on poverty had wage inequality not increased since 1979 (i.e., had everyone’s wages grown at the same rate as average wages). Next we examine how the poverty rate would have been lower had economic gains been broadly shared (i.e., had all wages grown at the same rate as economy-wide productivity). Both simulations show that we could achieve real gains in poverty reduction by ensuring that lower-income workers are able to share in our country’s economic growth. And even these projected gains likely understate the extent to which a full-employment economy could alleviate poverty, as it would disproportionately benefit low-wage workers. Had wages grown in tandem with productivity over 1979–2013 and if the economy were at full employment, the non-elderly market-based poverty rate (i.e., the poverty rate for Americans under age 65 before safety-net supports are taken into account) would be 4.2 percentage points lower. This means that 11.2 million fewer people would be in poverty.

These simulations show that increasing inequality, stagnant wages, and chronic shortfalls in labor demand have come at a serious cost to poverty-reduction efforts. Indeed, the economy’s failure to deliver gains to low-wage workers in recent decades means that the tax-and-transfer system is responsible for all of the progress made in poverty reduction since 1967. To boost the pace of poverty reduction going forward, fiscal transfers that help low-income families almost surely need to be accompanied by policies to foster widely shared wage growth. In fact, the simulated 4.2 percentage-point poverty-rate decline from using full employment and broad-based wage growth to reduce poverty is more than half as large as the poverty reduction from our entire range of anti-poverty programs.

Without wage gains, the tax-and-transfer system needs to work harder every year simply to keep poverty rates from increasing. We argue that a policy agenda to fight poverty must include an agenda to raise wages. This agenda should include raising the minimum wage, setting a new overtime threshold, eliminating wage theft, strengthening workers’ collective bargaining rights, and targeting full employment.

The paper’s key findings include: [continues]"
poverty  inequality  us  economics  2015  productivity  policy  wages  income  taxes  taxation  wealthtransfer  labor  work  elisegould  alyssadavis  willkimball 
may 2015 by robertogreco

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