Mayors and police officials are getting itchy -- and in some instances, wrongly violent -- toward the continuing Occupy Wall Street protests and camp-ins that have spread across the country. That's striking, because many more Americans agree than disagree with the sentiment that is driving the Occupy Wall Street movement, a comprehensive new national poll shows. And according to an exhaustive study by the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office released last week, their concerns are well founded.
The CBO study, based on IRS tax data, strongly confirms one of the root sentiments driving the Occupy Wall Street: That income inequality in America, and the economic impacts that go with it, has widened remarkably over the past three decades. The top 1 percent's share of national income doubled in that period, and the income share taken by the top 20 percent now amounts to substantially more than all the income of the bottom 80 percent combined.
If Americans sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protesters do not know precisely the facts revealed by the CBO findings, they correctly sense them from the trends they experience in their daily lives. The CBO report confirms the trends. Government's tax policies have become less redistributive since the 1970s and have thus spurred greater concentration of the nation's wealth and income in the hands of the ultra-wealthy, thereby increasing the collateral economic hardships that burden ordinary Americans.
From 1979 to 2007, the CBO found, the average inflation-adjusted, after-tax income of the top 1 percent of American households increased by 275 percent. That dramatic jump more than doubled the share of the nation's after-tax household income captured by the top 1 percent, from nearly 8 percent in 1979 to 17 percent in 2007, the latest figures available to the CBO when it began its study in 2009.
In the same three decades, the average inflation-adjusted, after-tax income for the others in the top 20 percent grew by 65 percent. The sharp increase helped the top 20 percent of households capture 53 percent of the nation's after-tax, household income in 2007, a rise from 43 percent in 1979. Put another way, the inflation-adjusted, after-tax income of the top 20 percent was more than the bottom 80 percent's share, which fell to 47 percent.
The sharp shift in income gains at the top and losses for the bottom 80 percent marked a downward trend for inflation-adjusted income for every quintile below the top 20 percent. In the middle three-fifths of the nation's population, the broad middle-class experienced an actual decline in inflation-adjusted, after-tax income of 2 to 3 percent from 1979 to 2007. The poorest fifth of Americans' share of the nation's inflation-adjusted, after-tax income fell from 7 percent to 5 percent.
The CBO study was requested two years ago by Sens. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, and Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who was then the ranking Republican on that committee. The CBO study further found that federal benefits like Social Security and Medicare are also doing less than they used to for older Americans due to the rising income and tax inequities.
The CBO's findings of the nation's increasingly inequitable distribution of income, sorely amplified by the last Bush administration's gratuitous tax giveaways to the nation's billionaires, surely illuminate the reasons for the rising discontent, despair and broad economic anxiety identified by the latest national New York Times/CBS News Poll, which was also released last week.
Almost half of those polled agreed with the concerns of economic injustice expressed by Occupy Wall Street protesters. Two-thirds said the nation's wealth should be more evenly distributed; two-thirds objected to more tax breaks for corporations; and two-thirds preferred a tax increase on the very rich. Seventy percent also thought that the policies of Congressional Republicans favored the very wealthy.
President Obama's approval rating, at 46 percent, was low, but still far higher than the dismal record low approval rating of just 9 percent for Congress. That explains why most Republicans said they were paying little attention to the current GOP presidential aspirants.
What Americans most want, the poll showed, is a vigorous, cogent program to provide jobs and lift the economy. Unfortunately, with Republicans against Obama's reasonable job, infrastructure and tax-equity proposals, the poll's findings, and the nation's economy, are not likely to change.