But the study convincingly rebuts the notion that the living standards of most Americans had stagnated for many decades. Pew calculated household incomes, adjusted for inflation, all along the economic spectrum and found that, until the early 2000s, most households reaped slow but steady increases. Growing inequality did not siphon off all gains for those who are not rich . Here’s how Pew describes this period:
“Households typically experienced double-digit gains in each of the three decades from 1970 to 2000. Middle-income household income increased by 13% in the 1970s, 11% in the 1980s, and 12% in the 1990s. Lower-income households had gains of 13% in the 1970s, 8% in the 1980s and 15% in the 1990s. Upper-income households registered a 10% gain in the 1970s [and] . . . 18% in both the 1980s and 1990s.”
What’s happened since, of course, is that the Great Recession erased some of these gains. Unemployment rose, overtime pay declined and many of the unemployed had to accept lower wages to get new jobs. Pew estimates that household incomes dropped to levels of the late 1990s. That’s a steep decline. Still, the Great Recession left intact most gains achieved since 1970. In 2014, typical middle-income households had incomes 34 percent higher than in 1970; in 2000, the advance had been 40 percent.