Keeping it Radical: Exploring Income, Income Inequality and Poverty Data for the US
Michael J. Lynch (Department of Criminology, University of South Florida)
This study reports on data reported in:
“Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States, 2007”
US Bureau of the Census.
By Carmen DeNavas-Watt
Bernadette D. Proctor
Jessica C.. Smith
Current Population Reports. (P-60-235).
The following discussion presents a summary along with some implications from a portion of the data present in the 2008 US Bureau of the Census report “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States, 2007” (August; Current Population Reports, P-60-235; see http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p60-235.pdf. These summaries and interpretations are offered to aid other criminologists in obtaining, using and understanding US income, poverty and inequality data.
The use and interpretation of income, income inequality and poverty data are important aspects of doing radical criminology. Radical criminology, in order to strip away ideological images and reveal the material conditions in a society that impact the life patterns, life-styles, life courses, and the life chances and choice the ordinary people who live in and make up the majority of society, must continually refer to and use data that addresses dimensions of class relationships and power upon which society is built. Doing so requires employing data to address the structural relationships and forms of equality that support the basis of inequality in a class-based society.
In recent years, much of critical criminology has attempted to shift the analysis of crime, justice, law, social control and life issues to the non-material conditions of life. In those views, for example, the making of culture and the construction and limits of language as a structure has replace the focus on class relations, power relations, and other structural dimensions of inequality as the most important theoretical and practical concerns. This has lead to an extra-ordinarily wide-spread neglect of more traditional materialist theoretical and empirical work, though such work continues to remain a prominent concern in other disciplines.
Criminological perspectives based in post-modern and cultural explanations have contributed to undermining class analysis within criminology. In addition, these approaches offer less of a challenge to orthodox criminology, and one rarely noted refer to this work within the orthodox criminological literature. Perhaps those engaged in these forms of critical criminology are uninterested in this observation or in having their work effect orthodox theorizing. In such a case, critical criminology has abandoned one of its central concerns, or at least a central concern of its radical variants, which is not only to get to the root of social problems, but to understand those problems in ways that force a change in how they are understood, and upon which active social policies may be built (See Lynch and Michalowski, 2006, Primer in Radical Criminology, Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press). This is based on Marx’s notion that “the point isn’t to interpret the world. The point is to change it.” It is toward this end that there continues to be a need to keep abreast of, examine, interpret and describe the uses of data on class relationships such as income, income inequality and poverty.
Median Household income over time.
From 1967 to 2007, or over 40 years, real median household income in the US rose $ 11,462 or from $38,771 in 1967 to $50,233 by 2007. This fact, in itself, seems quite significant, and on some level appears to indicate the economic advancement of the average family in the US over the past four decades. Consistent with, it seems, capitalist ideology, in the long run, people in a capitalist society are better off. As capitalism advances, as more value is produced, these values become more widely distributed, appearing, for example, as a “trickle-down” economic effect which enhances the standing of the average person in society.
In reality, when we interpret and reassess the meaning of the rise in median household income over the past forty years, it becomes clear why the above interpretation is not only misleading, but entirely inadequate as an explanation of what has happened to median family income over the past forty years.
To understand what has happened to median family income over the past forty years, let us first transform the rise in median family income into a percent gain. Over this 40 year period, real median household income increased by 29.6 %, which appears to be a substantial gain. However, we must realize that this gain, this additional $ 11,462, occurred over a very long time period, and in order to get a better picture of what this means, we need to divide the 20.6% gain (or the $ 11,462 gain) by the forty years over which this gain occurred. Doing so, we find that the nearly 30% gain in median income experienced by families was less than a 1 percent (0.73%) annual gain. Moreover, on an annual basis, the expansion of median family income amounts to only $286.55 per year.
Thus, once we consider the average annual gain, the income gained by the average US family over the past forty years turns out to be quite small. In fact, it is even smaller than these statistic, which treat the gain annually, reveals.
Why are the gains made by the average family even smaller than they appear? In short, because in calculating the average annual gains over the past forty years we have yet to take account of inflation. Indeed, if we examine the rate of inflation we find that the gain in income falls well below the rate of inflation for this time period. Consequently, this slow rate of income growth that occurred over the past forty years indicates that the average US family lost ground to inflation over this time period, or that the average American family in 2007 was worse off economically than the average American family in 1967.
How much worse off was the average family in 2007 compared to 1967? Much worse off than most Americans would imagine. This can be illustrated in two ways: by examining actual changes in the median family-inflation ratio, and by examining a hypothetical situation where the rate of inflation is set to a predetermined rate.
Let us begin with the predetermined hypothetical rate scenario since here we will set the rate of inflation quite low in order to illustrate the effect of the real rate of inflation on mean family income. In the predetermined example, let us set inflation to only 1% per year or just slightly greater than the annual rate of increase in real median family income for this period which was 0.73%. Here, we are interested in discovering the effect of a rate of inflation that is only fractionally higher than the rate of growth in income – a rate which is just 0.27% higher per annum.
At a 1% annual inflation rate, the average family is only losing 0.27% a year to inflation, which seems like a rather small amount. Even with this small difference, a family earning $38,771 in 1967 would need to earn $57,208.17 in 2007 to keep pace with inflation where inflation is a mere 1%. Yet, in 2007 the median American family earned only $50,233, or found themselves $6,975 behind the rate of inflation IF the rate of inflation were only 1 percent per year. At only 1%, then, the median inflated household income of $57,208 was nearly 14 percent higher than actual median family income for this time period ($50,233). And, unfortunately for the average American family, the rate of inflation was been much higher on an annual basis throughout this time period than the hypothetical 1 percent rate this example employed..
What was the real difference between the 40 year rate of inflation in the US and the 40 year gain in median family income? For the period 1967-2007, the average real annual inflation rate was 4.67%, substantially higher than the low inflations rate of 1% set in our predetermined example. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator (http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl), the buying power of $38,771 in 1967 – the median family income in 1967 – – was equivalent to the buying power of $240,684 in 2007 !!!! In other words, once inflation is considered, median family income would need to increase by 520% between 1967 and 2007 to keep pace with 1967 purchasing power. As noted, between 1967 and 2007, median family income rose by only about 30% to $50,223. This figure is more than $190,000 less than the median family income needed just to keep pace with the real rate of inflation during this time period.
Over time, then, the average American family lost substantial ground in terms of income.
Today’s family is far worse off than the typical family in 1967. Thus rather than hard work producing substantial gains for most Americans, hard work produces substantial declines in family income; rather than the vast wealth produced in the US over this time period being shared, it appears that this is not the case; rather than getting a head, the average family fell far behind. On top of these unfortunate circumstance, these income losses were distributed differently across households with distinct characteristics, and some households suffered more so than others.
In short, the average US family was worst off in 2007 than in 1967, so much worse off that this may be hard to contemplate. To some extent, knowing that this is true helps explain other significant issues in the US economy which are not the focus of the present discussion such as the extraordinary expansion of credit during this time period (Note: the rapid and widespread expansion of credit is needed to continually fuel economic expansion in a capitalist economy where the share of income accumulated by the average family is shrinking; that is, as economic class inequality expands and relative income for the mass of families decline, this contradiction can only be solved by the expansion of credit, which at some points created its own problem since the amount of credit extended to the mass of families will need to surpass the income of those families in order to maintain expanding consumption, which will clearly cause an economic collapse, especially in an economy where the transition from a manufacturing base is already well underway, and where the only option is to become an exporting rather than an importing nation, or, in contrast to the Obama economic stimulus package, to constrain domestic consumption while promoting foreign consumption of US products. But, this is the material for an entirely separate analysis).
Household Characteristics and Median Family Income, 2007.
Related and Unrelated Households. For 2007, median family income varied significantly with household characteristics. For example, the median household income for married couples was $ 72,785, a figure that is nearly 45% higher than overall or non-differentiated median family income for 2007. Compared to married couples, median household income was significantly lower for other household relationship categories such as male-headed households without a wife ($49,839; less than 1 percent lower than median family income, but 31.5% lower than married couple median household income); female-headed, no husband households ($33,330; 33% lower than male-headed households, and 54% lower than married couple median household income). In comparison, non-family member household had the lowest median income at $30,176.
Race and Ethnicity. Significant variation also exists between median household income by race/ethnicity of household. For example, the median income of Asian households was $66,103; for White-non-Hispanic households median income was $54,920 (about 17% lower); for Black households $33,916 (approximately 49% lower than for Asian households and 38% lower than White-non-Hispanic households). In addition, median family income for Hispanic households of any race ($33,679) were similar to median household incomes for Blacks, though among all racial and ethnic groups, median Hispanic household income was the lowest.
Racial and ethnic differences in household income appear fairly substantial, and actually exaggerate racial and ethnic difference in income. Indeed, racial and ethnic distinctions in income are less evident in per capita median income comparisons made across racial and ethnic groups. It is important to note that the difference between per capita and median household income for race and ethnicity comparisons are affected by the number of wage earners each method reflects. For example, there is no standard number of wage earners in a household, and a higher median household income across racial or ethnic groups may, for example, reflect the number of wage earners in an average household for each racial and ethnic group rather than the actual difference in income for individuals in each racial and ethnic group. In order to account for variations in household size across racial and ethnic groups, median per capita income levels should, therefore, also be consider since these remove the effects of multiple wage earners included within median household calculations.
The Census indicates that on a per capita basis, White, non-Hispanics earned the highest mean income in 2007 — $31,051, compared to Asians ($29,901), Blacks ($18,428) and Hispanics of any race ($15,603), which provides a slightly different rank order of racial/ethnic groups when measuring mean income.
Despite the difference between per capita incomes by race/ethnicity and median household incomes by race/ethnicity, the relative rank order of the relationship between race/ethnicity and income is fairly consistent across these methods, although these methods would lead to a fairly significant difference with respect to indentifying the top earning racial/ethnic group. The following table shows the differences in income ranks for median household income compared to per capita income by race and ethnicity for 2007:
Rank by Race/Ethnicity by Different Income Measures
Per Capita Median Household
White, Non Hispanic 1 2
Asian 2 1
Black, Non-Hispanic 3 3
Hispanic, Any Race 4 4
One reason that race/ethnicity estimates of income by family and individual varies is related to the effect of the number of wage earners within families of different racial and ethnic origins. The data on median household and per capita incomes can be used to estimate the number of wage earners in a household. This is accomplished by taking a ratio of the median household income to per capita income by racial and ethnic groups. For example, for white, non-Hispanics, the median household/per capita income ratio is 1.77, meaning that, on average, White-non-Hispanic families are expected to contain 1.77 income earners. For Asians, the ratio is 2.21, meaning that Asian households on average have 2.21 income earners. For Blacks, the ratio is 1.84, indicating an average of 1.84 income earners in the average Black household. Finally, for Hispanic families of any race, the family/per capita ratio is 2.16 indicating that for Hispanic families there are an average of 2.16 income earners per household.
An important concern is the extent to which income is distributed unequally. Generally, it is assumed that the distribution of income reflects effort or the idea that economic reward is commensurate with the amount of work one does, or in what we will call the work-reward paradigm. Above, this idea was challenged by, for example, evidence that differentials in income were seen across both families and individuals depending upon race and ethnicity. In the work-reward paradigm, the existence of these differentials must mean that (in the household income example) Asians work harder than Whites, who work harder than Blacks who work harder than Hispanics. We could, of course, address this issue directly if data on hours worked by race were available, but even hours worked data may not indicate how hard someone works or how hard they prepared for that work, or even the degree of difficulty associated with a particular form of work, such as its requirement for hard, physical labor on a sustained, repeated basis.
In any event, here we are less concerned with the reasons for inequality and instead focus on two primary issues. First, establishing that income inequality exists and second that contrary to what many believe, income inequality in the US is fairly extensive.
Since our focus here is on establishing the nature of income inequality in general and in demonstrating the class issues involved, we will leave aside issues that blend income inequality and race/ethnicity. Although this is obviously an important concern it is beyond the scope of the present discussion.
In order to describe income inequality, it is necessary to have an indicator or measure of the extent of inequality. Such a measure is readily available in the GINI coefficient of income inequality, or for short, the GINI coefficient. While the GINI coefficient provides one widely employed measure of income inequality, it is not an intuitive measure and requires some explanation. Consequently, here let us instead examine the distribution of incomes by comparing the percentage of income found in each population quintile.
A population quintile is made up of 20% of the population. In a society where incomes are fairly evenly distributed, one would expect that the percentage of income associated with each quintile would be nearly identical to the percentage of the population within a quintile. In other word, if we took the lowest 20% of wage earners in a society where income was distributed evenly, we would expect that this would also represent about 20% of the population more generally. That is, twenty percent of the population would receive twenty percent of the income in a society with an equity based income distribution.
Unfortunately, in the modern word income is not distributed so evenly. Indeed, income is often distributed quite unevenly. Sometimes, the inequality in the distribution of income is so lopsided that we are shocked to discover its true extent.
As noted, in order to examine the distribution of income across the population, we will compare income across population quintiles. In the Census data examined here (Series P-60-235), the income data is family based meaning that the inequality and income measures represent income inequity across families rather than individuals.
If we divide the US population of families into quintiles or fifths, with each fifth representing 20% of families, we might expect to see some evidence of unequally distributed incomes given that in the US there is an assumption that incomes are based on “work effort” rather than “need” or “equity” divisions (here, we will not address the assumption of distribution of income reflecting work effort, and instead simply note that much work has critiques the basis of this assumption such as Robert Frank And Phillip Cooks, The Winner Take all Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More than the Rest of US). Indeed, when we examine the relationship between income quintiles and family quintiles (see Table 1), there is only one quintile – the fourth quintile – in which the distribution of the (family based) population and income is fairly equivalent. In the fourth quintile, which is the second highest income group, consists of 20% of families and 23.4% of the income for the US. (*One of the issues that cannot be address here is the relationship between individuals and income since these data are based on families).
Interestingly, the income for the 4th quintile is only slightly skewed or unequal. If, for example, we defined equity (e) as the ratio of income percentage (p i) to the family quintile percentage (p f-q) or as e = p i / p f-q, then e would be 1 in all cases where there is equality because p i = p f-q. In contrast, when the income distribution is skewed so that a quintile is receiving income greater than its family distribution, it will have an equity skewness index (esi) greater than 1. For the 4th quintile, the ESI is 23.4/20 = 1.17. In other words, the ESI of 1.17 indicates that each 1 percentile in the quintile (recall that a quintile is made up of 20 percentiles) earns 0.17 percent above the state of equity or equal income distribution.
If we reexamine Table 1 paying attention to the ESI, we see that the first three quintiles or the lowest family income quintiles have ESIs below 1, indicating that these quintiles receive less income than expected if income were evenly distributed. How uneven is the income distribution? Fairly uneven — the first quintile or 20 percent of families receives only 3.4 percent of all income; the second quintile, 8.7 percent of income, and the third quintile, 14.8 percent of income. All together, this 60 percent of families receives only 26.9 percent of all income.
The problem of inequity at the bottom end where income is under distributed necessarily involves income being over-distributed at the top end. In other words, the problem for the bottom one-fifth and by extension the bottom three-fifths of the population is that the top quintile keeps so much income. The problem, in other words, is that the fifth or highest income quintile earns an extraordinarily unequal share of income. But, more importantly, within this quintile is the influence of the top 5 percent of wage earners. While the top 20 percent of families take home almost half – 49.7 percent – of all income, the top 5 percent of families alone take home 21.5 percent of all income.
The problem this data displays is that the poor are very poor and that their condition is a consequence of having a small group of families that are very rich. We will return to this point below.
Another way to illustrate the extent of this poverty and inequity produced by the current distribution of incomes across families is to create in Table (which shows each quintile, the percent of income for each quintile, population percentage grouping, and the ESI) a measure of dollar per family distribution of income (DPFDI) and the DPFDI ratio. To derive the DPFDI and its ratio, we simply impose an assumption over these data which is a mathematical representation of these data: namely that each population percent is equivalent to one family. All this assumption accomplishes is that it translates a percentage into a family so that we create a population of 100 families that directly reflect the income distribution found in society. In other words, in the first group (the old lowest quartile) there is 20 percent of the population, or in a population of 100 families, 20 families, and so on across each quartile with the exception of the 5th quartile which was split into two groups to allow an examination of income inequality for the highest 5 percent of families (or in this case 5 persons) in the population of 100 families.
The DPPDI represents the dollar amount earned by each family. It is calculated as a mean relative to each category, and reflects the amount earned for each $100,000 of gross income across all 100 families. The DPPDI ratio measures income inequality relative to the mean income of a member of the top 5 percent. The DPPDI shows, for example, that for every dollar earned by a family in the lowest quintile (bottom 20 percent; Q 1), a person in the top 5 percent of society (Q 5-2) earns $101.2.
The DPFDI indicates that even among the wealthiest 20 percent of families (Q 5-1 and Q 5-2) there is a large disparity in the distribution of income. Compared to the top 5 percent of wage earners (Q 5-2), the remaining portion of the top quintile of income earners (Q 5-1) makes, on average, $ 6.9 dollars less for every dollar earned by a Q 5-2 family. In the event this sum looks paltry, consider that income earners – the top one percent of individual earners – earned an average income of $1.1 million in 2005. That same year, the top 1/10 th of one percent of top individual income earners – about 300,000 people — took home an average of $ 5.6 million each. At an even more extreme level, the top 1/100th percent of income earners – the top 30,000 income earners in the US – made, on average, $25.7 million in 2005 (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2007/mar2007/inco-m30.shtml). In other words, if you make $6.9 dollars for every dollar I make, and you made $ 1.1 million dollars, then I would have made only $159,430, or $ 940,540 less. That $940,540 dollars is the difference between being in the top 1 percent of wage earners and being in the 80-95 percentile range.
Table 1: Income Distributions by Quintiles* (% Population), Equity Rations (ESI), and Per Family (DPPDI), 2007
% Population %Income ESI Mean $ DPFDI DPFDI Ratio
___________ ________ ____ _______ ______ __________
20 (Q 1) 3.4 0.17 $ 3,400 $ 170 101.2
20 (Q 2) 8.7 0.435 $ 8,700 $ 435 39.5
20 (Q 3) 14.8 0.74 $14,800 $ 740 23.2
20 (Q 4) 23.4 1.17 $23,400 $ 1,170 14.7
15 (Q 5-1) 28.2 1.88 $37,600 $ 2,507 6.9
5 (Q 5-2) 21.5 4.30 $86,000 $ 17,200 ——–
* The quintile measure (Q 1, Q 2, etc.,) is divided for the 5th quintile into two parts: (1) Q 5-1, or the bottom 15 percent of the 5th quintile, and (2) Q 5-2, the top 5 percent of the 5th quintile or the richest 5% of the entire population of families.
Income Inequality Reconsidered
There is, in the US, much concern that any effort to redistribute income would adversely impact the majority of society, producing, for example, a disincentive for innovation, productive activity, and economic investment. Furthermore, the assumption that investment by the rich is needed to stimulate continued economic growth has become a more common and widespread assumptions since the 1980s, when the super-rich among the population were granted “tax incentives” (tax cuts) to accelerate economic growth through “trickle down” spending. However, as the recent recessionary period of the 21st century has indicated, this is indeed not the case; the rich cannot and do not save the economy from crisis. Indeed, tax cuts to the rich appear to restrict capital turnover by causing a higher proportion of net income to be absorbed into saving and investment among those with elevated incomes, or which only stimulate narrow portions of the economy tied to luxury consumption (in the way, for example, suggested by Thorsten Veblen in his 1899 book, Theory of the Leisure Class, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/VEBLEN/veblenhp.html).
Regardless of these assumptions, income in the US was, earlier in the twentieth century, much more evenly distributed in the US. One of the factors that contributed to greater income equality was the highly progressive tax structure that characterized early 20th century America (see, US Federal Individual Income Tax Rates History, 1913-2009, http://www.taxfoundation.org/publications/show/151.html). Moreover, despite this highly progressive tax rate, economic investment was not discouraged, individuals amassed great wealth, and the US economy expanded and grew at a steady, and if not at time a rapid pace.
With respect to the progressive tax structure in early 20th century America, consider that in 1917 the income tax rate for persons earning over $500,000 was 54% to 67%. A tax rate in excess of 50% or more on incomes of more than $500,000 was in effect until 1924 before it was lowered to 25% for income earners over $100,000. The 25% tax rate remained in effect until 1932, when the tax rates for upper income groups (greater than $100,000) reverted to 56% to 63%.
The tax break for the rich which occurred from 1924 through 1931 was an historical aberration during the early 20th century. In 1936, the tax rate for upper income levels increased. Income rates for all income levels rose during World War II. By 1950, these persistent tax increases meant that a married couple filing jointly earning in excess of $150,000 was taxed at a rate of 90 percent.
In the 1950s, as economic growth accelerated, tax rates declined – which was somewhat a paradoxical policy since extensive economic growth after WWII occurred despite high tax rates. By the mid-1950s, tax reform efforts pushed the income levels for those taxed at the highest level (still 90 percent or more) to $300,000. Granted, $300,000 was a fairly high income, and in 2009 dollars was equivalent to approximately $2.3 million dollars. Nevertheless, through the mid-1950s, income taxes helped redistribute incomes and were extraordinarily progressive, especially at the highest income levels.
The 1964 tax revisions lowered the tax rate on those earning $200,00 or more to 76.5%, effective excluding those with the highest incomes from paying the 90% tax rate that was historically established. Further tax reductions for upper income individuals occurred in 1965. Tax rates for the highest income groups remained relative stable for the next 15 years.
Significant tax reductions for upper income groups and a shift to accelerated tax rates for lower income groups occurred in the early 1980s. In the early 1980s both the rate of taxation and the level of taxable income affected by tax rates were radically changed. For example, the tax rate for families in the highest tax bracket was lowered to $85,600 – which effectively expanded a portion of the tax base at the lowest end of the upper income levels for families — while the tax rate for this newly defined high income group declined to 50 percent. By 1984 the income level for the highest income tax rate nearly doubled to $162,400, and increased through 1987. Further tax reductions for the highest income groups were achieved in the major federal tax reforms of 1988 which reduced the tax rate on families earning more than $150,000 to only 28 percent. This reduction was significant for several reasons. First, it marked the lowest tax rate on the highest income earners in the 20th century. Second, this kind of tax structure clearly indicated that taxation would no longer be used to help maintain an equitable distribution of incomes in the US. Third, the regression of the tax rate on the upper income group also indicated that there was no longer an assumption that it was part of the wealthy’s responsibilities to employ their good fortune for the benefit of society or for the greatest good, or that the government should help reinforce that value system through a progressive tax structure. Finally, the declining tax rate on the upper income group also made it evident that the state would now function more openly in defense of the power of the upper income and propertied classes.
It should be noted that the drastic tax cuts on upper income groups that occurred in 1988 were marked by a second tax strategy that revealed the basis and class bias in the new tax structure. That bias was evident in the tax rate paid by the second highest tax bracket – families earning from $71,900-$149,999 – which paid a higher income tax rate of 33 percent or 5% more than families in the highest income bracket. In effect, in the late 1980s, income earners got a tax break for being richer than other income earners, a practice that was revoked by 1992 federal tax reforms. Currently, the highest effective tax rate is 35 percent on income earners (married filing jointly/families) receiving more than $372,950.
As indicated above, tax rates in the first half of the 20th century were much higher for the highest income levels – in a number of years exceeding 90% for those at the top of the income scale. This level of taxation did not derail America’s economic growth and, perhaps, contributed to greater income equity by lowering the tax rates for lower income groups and by redistributing incomes. In recent years, however, there has been an increased tendency to believe that high tax rates retard economic growth even though evidence prior to the mid-1960s suggests that this assumption is incorrect. Perhaps there is also an assumption that progressive tax rates on upper income groups appeared “socialistic,” even though this kind of progressive rate of taxation was evident in American capitalism well before the emergence of socialist/communist nations.
Income Inequality, Taxation and Poverty
One of the reasons to remain concerned with income inequality and regressive tax rates on the wealthiest income earners is the effect of these outcomes on poverty in the US. For a nation with an overall high level of wealth and which ranks among the nations with the highest mean and per capita income levels, there remains extensive poverty in the US. In 2007, 12.5% of the US population lived below the officially identified poverty level (in 2008-2009, poverty thresholds were increased to $10,830 for a single individual; $14,570 for a family of two; $18,310 for a family of three; $22,050 for a family of four). For children under 18, the poverty rate increases to 17.6%, and for those under 6 to 20.8%.
Poverty and race/ethnicity are highly interrelated in the US. While the general rate of poverty in the US was 12.5%, the poverty rate for non-Hispanic Whites was significantly lower — 8.2%. For Blacks (24.5%) and Hispanics of any race (21.5%), poverty rates are significantly higher than the mean US poverty rate.
Finally, there is also a gender component to poverty. For example, 13.6% of male head single parent households lived under the poverty level. For female headed single parent households the rate of poverty was more than twice the rate fro men, 28.3%.
Household income, economic inequality, taxation and poverty data are central to understanding the ways in which US society remains divided into distinct classes with varied access to economic resources. Economic inequality and class inequality accompany one another.
It is, at this point, beyond my intention to make much of the data reviewed above, especially within the specific context of criminological research. Nevertheless, I would be remiss if I completely dismissed making any observations relevant to the use of these data for furthering observations pertinent to radical criminology. Thus, in conclusion let me offer these brief observations which I hope to return to at a future date.
First, in recent years, economic inequality and class relationships have played an increasingly larger role in producing class-linked forms of social control. Second, these class-linked social controls have become increasingly necessary in a society that is more widely divided by economic and class inequities. The massive prison expansion of recent decades, for example, has much to do with controlling the marginalized populations produced during the restructuring of American capitalism from an industrial to a service basis. Indeed, it is necessary during this restructuring which expands the general marginalization of the work force, that formal mechanisms of social control that provide for the physical constraint of the marginal classes expand as well (for further discussion see, Lynch, Michael J., Big Prisons, Big Dreams, Rutgers University Press, 2007). Third, based on these observations and keeping in mind the assumptions of radical economic and political analysis, we can link these observations together noting that, indeed, it is no accident that in the US prison expansion coincides with the decline of manufacturing. The year 1973, for instance, marks the beginning of the intensive decline of the manufacturing sector, the beginning of the end of oil period in the US, and the first year of the current stretch of 36 years of unbroken increases in the rate of punishment in the US.
In closing, let me also be clear about one of the assumptions that has greatly impacted radical analysis within criminology. That assumption is that the US, and the world more generally, has entered a new phase of developed, one that philosophers and other social analysts have identified as the “post-modern” world. Unfortunately, there is really nothing post-modern about the current world, which is merely a restructured version of capitalism rather than any form of post-modern world. To some extent nations may have become post-industrial – and these nations would include the US. But, a post-industrial nation and a post-modern nation are two different beings. Furthermore, it may be a mistake to refer to nations such as the US as post-industrial since we have no idea, for example, how long this state may last, or how changing world relationship impact the transfer of industrial production within the world, which at some point may cause the redevelopment of industrial capitalism in the US. To be sure, it is likely that the “reindustrialization” of the US may occur or has already begun to occur in ways that look unfamiliar to us since, as economists who analyze such issues imply, part of this industrial restructuring involves the emergence of post-Fordist techniques of production. While post-Fordist production has had some impact on the organization of US industry, it has not played as central a role here as in other nations, and the future path of the US economy remains quite unsettled at this point. What these future developments means for crime and social control is, at this point, anyone’s guess.