The 99%

  • I have a Ph.D.
  • I have tenure.
  • I own vacation property in Montana.
  • I own my own home.
  • I take a vacation every year.
  • I usually manage to send my kids to summer camp.
  • Both of my cars start reliably in the morning.
  • I have good health insurance.
  • I am the 99%.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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16 Responses to The 99%

  1. BSK says:

    I’m curious how many people here actually know the line between the 99% and 1%.

  2. Lance says:

    I’m curious how many people here actually know the line between the 99% and 1%.

    Is it ten inches long?

  3. BSK says:

    Ha! I should also note that my original statement was very poorly phrased. The implication is that people “here” are somehow less likely to know, when my hunch is that just the opposite is true. I just know a lot of people have no idea how much annual income qualifies folks as a 1%er.

  4. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Not to go all populist here, but I suspect both Mr. Hanley and I are far closer to the 9 than the 90%, which given the marginal utility of money puts us even closer to wealth than to poverty.

    That said, Mr. Hanley’s point is well taken. The disingenuous conceit of the Occupy crowd is that the 99% wealth distribution is flat, as though we were all peasants gazing up from our mud huts at the opulent enormities of the 1%. And that is, of course, nonsense. (In fairness, the equal disingenuousness of the Tea Party crowd is that they’re willing to cut their own government benefits, too.)

    While not quite as desperately poor as Medieval surfs, there are genuinely poor people in the U.S., economically far removed from the likes of Mr. Hanley and I, but they are too busy trying to make ends meet to have the luxury of camping out in some urban park until bad weather drives them back home.

  5. Matty says:

    I suspect the truly poor do sleep in parks and not just when the weather is good.

  6. Matty says:

    Actually Mr Ridgely reminds me of a common tendency that annoys me, and that he does *not* indulge in himself. I’m thinking of the way people point to any protest and say something along the lines of “millions of people aren’t here so this can’t really have much support” Strangely it only applies to protests the speaker disagrees with and carries the strange assumption that anything you don’t go on protests against you are in favour of.

  7. James Hanley says:

    I just know a lot of people have no idea how much annual income qualifies folks as a 1%er.

    Over at the League, there’s a commenter who has twice said that $250,000 is the bottom level of middle class. So apparently you have to be in the top 5% to be “middle.” That’s a rather different math than I was taught.

  8. Dr X says:

    Well, depending on how you look at this particular rhetorical turn, you could see a different meanings. I wouldn’t assume that everyone who uses it believes or means that all of the 99% are struggling or that they would resent the relatively pleasant material life that many in the top10 percent enjoy. In fact, the suggestion for some might be that they don’t want to diminish those nice things you have in your life. Instead they’re talking about people who have enormous incomes and enormous wealth. I’m not debating the wisdom of their position or the lack thereof, but merely suggesting that the facts of your life don’t necessarily run against the assumptions of the many of the occupiers and their sympathizers.

  9. Over at the League, there’s a commenter who has twice said that $250,000 is the bottom level of middle class. So apparently you have to be in the top 5% to be “middle.” That’s a rather different math than I was taught.

    I don’t wish to defend that commenter (in fact, I have only a vague recollection of that long blog thread), but I imagine the claim that $250K rounds off the bottom of what counts as “middle class” comports with a pop-Marxian notion of “middle class” as “ruling class.” Of course, that doesn’t take into account popular parlance, in which “middle class” means (and I think I exaggerate only slightly) almost everyone except the homeless and (some) multimillionaires.

    I do dislike the “99%” formulation, for what it’s worth, and your post highlights one of the reasons I dislike it–it’s over-inclusive. Yet I think it’s also under-inclusive, too. A lot of people work for financial institutions as tellers, customer service reps, janitors, loan processors; these people might, sometimes, earn good wages, but they aren’t necessarily raking it in. Others–the accountants, underwriters, and managers–probably make much more money, but are not yet in the 99 percentile.

    To be fair, the OWS’ers probably would claim that most of these workers are indeed part of the 99%, but the vitriol they direct to “the banks” seems to partially obfuscate these workers’ membership.

  10. “I am the 99%.”

    Yes you are, James.

  11. James Hanley says:

    I’m glad you agree.

    Except I’m not sure you’re actually agreeing.

  12. Troublesome Frog says:

    I’m not sure if there’s an easy way to convey the point in a catchy slogan, so I think facts that underlie the outrage often get lost. No, there isn’t one cutoff between “rich” and “poor” at the 99th percentile. But that number does have significance. As I see it, we’ve divided into three groups over the past 30 years: The bottom 80%, the next 19% and that last 1%. The first group has had flat real income growth. The next group’s growth has continued more or less on trend. The top 1% has enjoyed spectacular growth.

    I think that at the very least, the median household and everybody below it should be concerned that median income growth no longer tracks our overall economic growth. Even though I live a very comfortable life in the top few percent, this transition alarms me.

  13. James Hanley says:


    I’m not yet wholly persuaded by the flat real income growth argument. I think it tends to overlook that substantial increase in single-person and single-parent homes. Most of the numbers I’ve seen look at household income, not per capita income, so they obscure that.

  14. Troublesome Frog says:

    James Hanley,

    I’ve heard this argument a few places, but on its surface, it always seems to me to be a way of throwing out chaff for a few reasons:

    1) I’ve seen the argument made in otherwise data-heavy papers, but no such data is presented. Usually, when data is available that destroys your opponent’s position, you present it and win. If it’s not available, you mention the confounding variable and imply that the data is available. I’m not talking about your post since this is a quickie blog discussion, but a lot of ink has been spilled over this, and nobody has simply posted the numbers and ended the discussion. That implies to me that the supporting numbers don’t exist. This goes back to my general position about think tank research and how we’d all probably be better off without it.

    2) The Census Bureau has useful data. Angry Bear did a post on it a few years ago. The trend seems to roughly hold for married couples.

    3) We’re talking about a 30 year trend, so real trends dominate and it should be easy to pick out these variables. We’re trying to account for a “missing” expected growth of about 70% over that time. That is, in the pre-1980 trend, income should have ended up to be almost double what it actually is. The gay cabal would have to be destroying marriage far faster than we thought.

    4) This can’t possibly hold at the top 1%. They were largely 2 income households to begin with, so unless corporate executives have substantially increased their tendency to marry one another (and developed a taste for polygamy), a different phenomenon is driving changes at the top. At the same time, the “Top income earners are taking a larger slice of the economic growth than they have before,” hypothesis neatly explains both trends.

    I’ll dig into the data, but I really don’t think that the single income hypothesis will pan out.

  15. James Hanley says:


    Not as a total explanation, no, but as part of it. I also think that part of it is that up to 30 years ago there were still women moving into the professional workforce, and that has slowed down since then, so we wouldn’t expect to see the same income gains once that source of increase has been tapped out. And I think some of it has to do with post WWII growth–we still, stupidly, I think, treat the post-war era as normal, rather than anomalous. There’s also the fact that most of the real income estimates aren’t fully “real” income analyses because they don’t account for goods that have decreased in price.

    In short, I think it’s a multi-variate answer, but I think much of it–perhaps not all, but much–doesn’t add up to anything to panic about.

  16. Troublesome Frog says:

    Not as a total explanation, no, but as part of it.

    True enough. Like just about everything, it’s multivariate. But I’m disturbed to see a lot of people in my income class comforting themselves by throwing out a confounding variable or two without really asking if puts the story to bed. It’s not noise, but so far I can’t make the math work to make this variable into a dominant variable. There’s something else going on.

    Women in the workforce, post WWII trends being anomalous, and fuzziness in real income calculations are all issues that should affect the top quintile as well as the bottom four. I do think that your question about how we define “normal” is important, though. The most obvious change would be slower growth overall, but that’s not really what happened. We’ve had decent real GDP keeping up with historical trend and productivity growth has continued as before, but we’ve changed how we divide up the gains from that increased productivity.

    For me, the most intuitive explanation is that for all but the most skilled labor (or dysfunctional labor markets), it’s a buyer’s market. This transfers the benefits of increased productivity to shareholders and the few employees still able to negotiate. If that’s the case, we had better get used to it. There’s plenty of untapped labor in the world. But even if the right answer economically is just to let it run its course, I think that we should be thinking harder about the policy implications than a lot of people seem to be.

    The first implication is that the top incomes will continue to enjoy a larger and larger share of the growth and income is will become increasingly concentrated. That has implications for how we choose our tax base and what services we need to provide. It also implies to me that we should be taking the idea of income mobility very seriously.

    I’m not a big fan of open-ended protest for its own sake, but I don’t think that we can fairly dismiss the complaints of the OWS movement. I think that there’s a very real set of worrying trends driving it and we do ourselves a disservice by simply chuckling at it.

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