Peter Dreier, Occidental College, LA
Contexts Magazine, Summer 2007
Most Americans are unaware how the United States compares to other affluent nations on various measures of economic and social well-being. This makes it difficult for them to consider whether another America, if not another world, is possible, because they have no basis of comparison other than anecdotes, stereotypes and an often misguided view that the U.S. is “number one” in terms of most indicators of the good life. At the same time, there is a growing unease among many Americans that their economic security and well-being are deteriorating -- but without a clear understanding of whether these trends are reversible, or whether there are lessons to be learned from other countries that may do things differently and, in some cases, better. So how does the United States compare?
The U.S. is the third most prosperous country among affluent nations, following Norway and Japan, countries once far behind (per capita income using market exchange rates, 1960-2004, 2004 dollars)
The U.S. ranks second, just behind Switzerland, in the concentration of wealth owned by the richest 10 percent of the population. In the U.S., the top 10 percent own 69.8 percent of the nation’s private wealth...
The U.S. has the widest income gap. This is due to the fact that, in other countries, the poor are better off and the rich are not as rich as their U.S. counterparts. In many affluent countries, the poor have higher real incomes -- purchasing power -- than their counterparts in the U.S. In the U.S., the income of households at the 10th percentile is 39 percent of the country’s median household income. In Denmark, the income of households at the 10th percentile is 42 percent of median household income in the United States. In Norway, the income of households at the 10th percentage is 47 percent of median household income in the United States. At the other end of the spectrum, in the U.S., the income of households at the 90th percentile is 210 percent of the country’s median income. In Denmark, the income of households at the 90th percentile is only 115 percent of median income in the United States. Only in Luxembourg are the households at the 90th percentile better off, in terms of purchasing power, than their U.S. counterparts. But the income gap in Luxembourg is much narrower because the poor in that country are much better off than the poor in the U.S.
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