Data and Visualization Resources for Incomes and Inequality

Posting links to two incredibly useful resources for students and people doing research on incomes, income distribution, and income inequality. These resources are useful for both historical data and visualizations as well as cross-country comparisons.

The first is the World Top Incomes Database from the Paris School of Economics. Many thanks to the Paris School and researchers Facundo Alvaredo, Tony Atkinson, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. It’s a a tremendous resource.

The second is a tremendous resource also. It’s Our World In Data. It’s a work in progress project by Max Roser,   but it’s already jam packed with great data and visualizations on incomes, health, war and violence, poverty, and food and hunger. And best of all, it’s all CC-BY-SA licensed.  I love it when collaboration and the commons come together to support learning.

Busting the Medicare Myths – Presentation

I gave a presentation today to the Michigan Intergenerational Network at Madonna University on the economic prospects of Medicare (U.S.). Thanks to the Madonna Univ. Gerontology Department for support and assistance.

For a downloadable and viewable copy of the presentation, see:

Awesome Resource – The World Top Incomes Database

Any student, researcher, or #OWS protestor interested in income distribution and income growth should definitely be aware of this resource:  The World’s Top Incomes Database.  (hat tip to Krugman, from whom I learned about it).  It’s a very powerful database combined with a very easy to use interface that allows you to extract exactly the data you want as a spreadsheet (see the Database tab) or to customize your own graphs.

You can pick from a growing list countries -over 25 already and more under development.  It’s particularly interesting because it’s not just the usual developed nation suspects.  There’s also data on developing countries and some less-developed nations.  Then you can pick your time series and variables.  It’s a tremendous variety:  share of national income by the top  x% (without or with capital gains).  In some case, data series are available on actual average real incomes by percentile groups.  What’s also nice is that they don’t just leave it at a split between the top 1% and the bottom 90%.  You can specify the top 1%, 5%, 10%, 0.1% or even the 0.01%.  Amazing.  You pick the time frame from early in the 20th century up to 2008.  Then you regenerate your graph or data table.  The best part is that by right clicking on the graph, you can download and save the graph.  Students: are you listening?  Understand the implications for research papers?  

Not Retiring Is the New Retirement Plan For Many

CalculatedRiskBlog tells us about a new major study of American workers and their retirement plans.  The study is published by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies [note for students: the center is an excellent source of research data and analysis].  CalculatedRisks summarizes:

From Rachel Ensign at the WSJ: For Many Seniors, There May Be No Retirement

Already battered nest eggs took another beating this month with the market’s wild swings. With interest rates essentially at zero since 2008, income from Treasurys and certificates of deposit is pretty paltry. … On top of that, housing prices [leave] homeowners with much less equity to tap.

Here is the survey mentioned in the article: The New Retirement: Working

• The survey found that for many Americans, the foundation of their retirement strategy is simply not to retire, to work considerably longer than the traditionalretirement age, or work in retirement:
–39 percent of workers plan to work past age 70 or do not plan to retire
–54 percent of workers expect to plan to continue working when they retire
–40 percent now expect to work longer and retire at an older age since the recession

• Workers’ greatest fears about retirement include “outliving my savings and investments” and “not being able to meet the financial needs of my family.”

• Most workers will continue working out of financial necessity:
–Workers estimate their retirement savings needs at $600,000 (median), but in comparison, fewer than one-third (30 percent) have currently saved more than $100,000 in all household retirement accounts
–Most workers, regardless of age or household income, agree that they could work until age 65 and still not have enough money saved to meet their retirement needs
–Of those who plan on working past the traditional retirement age of 65, the most commonly cited reasons are of need versus choice
–Many workers (31 percent) anticipate that they will need to provide financial support to family members

When I looked at the report myself, I was struck by this line in the executive summary:

Workers’ greatest fears about retirement include “outliving my savings and investments” and “not being able to meet the financial needs of my family.”

This is related to the point I’ve tried to make in the past (and also here  and here):  Social Security is not a pension plan. Social Security is an insurance program that insures all of us against the possibility of “outliving our savings and investments”.  It is particularly disturbing to hear politicians and those least likely to outlive their investments be in such a hurry to cut Social Security (or Medicare) at a time when uncertainty about investments and savings is rising (just look at the uncertain stock market and housing markets)!

Interesting Tool: Wage and Worker Distribution by Compensation, 1997-2009

Remapping Debate has put together an interesting interactive tool you can use.  I’m showing a static image of the tool below because security precautions at (this blog’s host) prevent including the full scripted interactive tool.  But if you click on the image you will be taken to the Remapping Debate site and the interactive tool itself.

There you can change the year as you wish using the slider in the lower left.  The orange bars indicate the percentage of the workforce that earns that bracket of compensation.  The first bar, for example, tells us the approximately 16% of the workforce earned less than $4,999.99 in 2009.   The blue bars tell us the percentage of the total U.S. compensation earned by the workers in that bracket.

Remapping Debate Distribution Of Workers And Income Tool

Story of a Cheap Dress (and an Economy, too)

I just found a site that should prove of particular interest to students of American economic and business history:  The Etsy Blog. They call themselves “anthropologists of commerce.”

The article I found tells of the century long evolution of a “cheap dress”.  Really it’s the evolution of women’s clothing from do-it-yourself to ready-to-wear knock-offs of Paris fashions to today’s high volume, high turnover fashion industry.  With it we get a glimpse of how life was really lived not so long ago.  For example, in 1950 the typical woman only owned nine outfits.  Compare that to today!  It’s no wonder my 1942-era house has such small closets!

The History of a Cheap Dress

ElizabethGoodClosetStory by ElizabethGoodCloset

Published on May 31, 2011 in Read

Elizabeth Cline is a Brooklyn-based writer and activist working on a book about responsible shopping in the age of cheap fashion, when low prices and rapid turnover of styles have ignited out-of-control clothing consumption. The book, calledThe Good Closet, will be published by Penguin Portfolio in spring 2012. You can follow the project at The Good Closet.

Everywhere American consumers shop — from outlet malls to department store sales racks —  deals flourish. But where can one find the cheapest dress? “Fast fashion” purveyors like Forever 21 and H&M are known for their low prices, high volume, and rapid turnover of styles. It’s amazing to think that a hundred years ago, at the birth of ready-made clothing as we know it, women would drop six hundred dollars for a Parisian knock-off. Today a fashionable dress is cheaper than a bag of dog food. How did we get here?

In the early 1900s, the sewing machine had only been around a half a century and the production quality and fit coming off the assembly lines needed some polishing. Decent menswear could be bought off the rack, and men were slowly warming up to ready-made duds. But for women there was a deep divide between high-end European fashions acquired by the wealthy and the flimsy, flashy, of-the-moment items available to everyone else. According to Jan Whitaker’s book Service and Style, a history of department stores, a ready-made knockoff of a French “lingerie style” dress started at $25 ($621.50 in today’s dollars) at Marshall Field’s in 1902. It was more feasible for the average girl to buy a ready-made women’s suit, which started at $7.95 ($190) or, better yet, the quintessential shirtwaist, which sold for just 39 cents ($9.34) at the turn-of-the-century. The fashion-hound of modest means was better off making her own dresses or ordering them from the local dressmaker.

dress6.jpgIllustration by Lena Corwin

Read the full story after the fold…. Continue reading

Historical Income Tax Rates Analysis Tool

After the More button is information from ReMapping Debate on how you can download (unfortunately Windows-only) a tool that let’s you analyze and compare tax rates and taxes paid for any type of filer between 1945 and 2010.  For example, you can see if a married filing jointly household with $75,000 in income would have paid more now vs any other year back to 1945.  Interesting tool.

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