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Thursday, March 18, 2004

We never had it so good

The Economist magazine thinks Americans are exaggerating the supposedly poor state of the economy, and it offers this nugget as part of the explanation:

...slow growth in median income overlaps with a scale of immigration into America outpacing all immigration in the rest of the world put together. Many immigrants have come precisely to take up the lowest-paid jobs. As a result, in the 20 years to 1999 some 5m immigrant households were added to those defined as below the poverty level. Yet among native-born Americans, poverty rates have declined steadily since the 1960s. In the case of black families, median incomes have recently been rising at twice the pace for the country as a whole.

Strip out immigrants, and the picture of stagnant median incomes vanishes. Indeed, for the nine-tenths of the population that is native-born, middle-income trends continue their improvement of the 1950s and 1960s. For these people, inequality is not rising, but falling. Gregg Easterbrook cheekily points out in his excellent recent book, “The Progress Paradox” (Random House), that if left-leaning Americans seriously want better statistics about middle-income gains, then they should simply close their borders.

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