New Data Shows America Has Lost One of the Things That Made It Great

As income inequality battles are fought out in the United States’ political arena, it's getting harder and harder to sell the dream of American prosperity and economic comfort.

Case in point: The U.S. middle class, long considered one of the most affluent in the world, is falling behind its global counterparts, namely Canada.

Canada has steadily outperformed the U.S. in after-tax income in the bottom earning percentiles. Publicly available data from the LIS Cross-National Data Center and the New York Times shows that, for the first time in more than 30 years, the Canadian middle class earns just as much as the median bracket of Americans.

In the bottom 30% of earners, the U.S. has consistently been outpaced by Canada, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands, meaning that the poor in these countries are earning more than poor Americans.

This information is a game-changer because data commonly used to represent a nation's income, like per capita GDP measurements, focus on an average of earners. Breaking the data down into percentiles paints a clearer picture of the earnings of the proverbial 99%, one drastically affected by inequitable income and wealth distribution.

The interactive data shows that in Norway and Sweden, income grew at a comparable rate across all percentiles over the last three decades. Germany, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands each show a visibly higher rate of increase in income for the 90th and 95th percentiles of earners. But still, no one comes close to the U.S.'s top earners, whose median annual income of $60,000 after taxes looks to keep going up, up, up.

The New York Times credits the climb of these European countries to more charitable income and wealth distribution by their governments and companies.

And the U.S. does far less than its European counterparts to redistribute wealth. As other countries climb past the U.S., maybe it is time to rethink that.

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Alexandra Hartmann

"Halfghan," feminist, and writer from Nebraska, currently based in Tunis. I studied all the things you're not supposed to talk about at the dinner table - politics, religion, sexuality, and gender.

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