Daily Life: Is Our Economy a Scandal?

The Left Says:

“The scandal of our time is that with all the explosion of technology and productivity the average American is not working fewer hours and making more money. We are not down to a thirty-hour week. The middle class is not expanding, and poverty has not been eliminated. On the contrary, it has increased.”

Source: Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, “We Are the Majority,” The Progressive, February 2004

What Conservatives Think:

Conservatives have a more optimistic view.

In their book “Myths of Rich and Poor: Why We’re Better Off Than We Think,”(1) W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm cheerfully report that working hours have decreased, and dramatically so. An average American’s annual work hours fell almost in half over the past 125 years, from 3,070 hours to 1,570 hours. In 1996, Americans averaged 30.2 hours of work a week, down from 33.5 in 1973, 35.3 in 1960 and 36.6 in 1950. Furthermore, thanks in part to labor-saving devices and a tendency to eat in restaurants more often, Americans even have it easier at home. In 1950, Americans averaged 4 hours and 12 minutes a day on housework, but by the late 1999s, Americans spent just 3 hours and 30 minutes. Americans also are entering the labor force later in life, say Cox and Alm. In the two decades after 1973, the age at which the average American first entered the labor force increased by nearly a year. Americans also quit working sooner. The average age at retirement was 64 in 1973, but just 62.2 by the late 1990s.

There’s good news in the war on poverty as well. In a 2003 paper(2) for the Heritage Foundation, analysts Robert Rector and Patrick Fagan observed:

* The poverty rate fell from 13.8 percent in 1995 to 11.7 percent in 2001;

* The child poverty rate fell from 20.8 percent (14.6 million children) in 1995 to 16.3 percent (11.7 million children) in 2001;

* Hunger among children has been cut roughly in half since 1995, from 1.3 percent (887,000 children) to .6 percent (467,000 children) according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture;

* The poverty rate for children of single mothers fell from 50.3 percent in 1995 to 39.8 percent in 2001;

* Although black child poverty was higher in 1995 (41.5 percent) than in 1971 (40.4 percent), it had fallen to 30.0 percent by 2001.

Say Rector and Fagan: “By 2001, despite the recession, the poverty rate for children in single-mother families was at the lowest point in U.S. history.”


(1) W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm, “Myths of Rich and Poor: Why We’re Better Off Than We Think,” Basic Books, 2000

(2) Robert Rector and Patrick F. Fagan, “The Continuing Good News About Welfare Reform,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #1620, February 6, 2003, available online at www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/bg1620.cfm

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