Under Trump's Misrule, The Most Highly Compensated Got Even Richer
Reprinted with permission from DCReport
Donald Trump's presidency and the Covid pandemic combined to make 2020 a remarkably enriching year for the highest-paid workers in America. Meanwhile, the numbers for the bottom 99.9 percent are, in a word, awful.
Just one in 900 workers makes $1 million or more, a new Social Security report on wages shows. My annual analysis of this data shows that this thin and rich group made 14 percent more money in 2020 than in 2019.
On average, the pretax pay of the $1 million-and-up workers increased by $305,600. That's after adjusting for inflation.
The other 99.9 percent of American workers got an average raise of just $76 each. But even that overstates how badly most workers did. That's because most of this minuscule pay increase went to the 1/10th of workers making $100,000 to $1 million. The bottom 88 percent, those making less than $100,000, got next to nothing.
The standard measure for worker pay is the median. It illustrates the typical pay situation because at the median, half of workers make more while half make less. Median pay in 2020 rose by a mere $26.
What A Surprise!
Put another way, for each $1 of increased pay going to the typical worker, each worker in the two-comma club collected $11,750.
Suppose $26 is the height of the heel of a shoe worn by a man standing on Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower. The heel is 1 inch. The height for the highest-paid workers' pay would soar 315 feet above that 58-story high-rise, for a total of 908 feet. That's a lot of heels. Plus one.
Trump has a policy: One for you, thousands for the rich; another for you, thousands more for the rich…
And don't forget, Trump's 2017 tax law gave the most highly paid workers a roughly four percent federal income-tax cut. Also, those workers tend to be the Americans with significant stock portfolios and Trump gave corporations a 40% tax-rate cut. So, they got a two-fer.
Crumbs For The Rest
You didn't get anything like either of those income-tax cuts. You got crumbs in tax savings plus the burden of $2 trillion in federal debt to pay for the Trump/Radical Republican tax cuts.
Indeed, if you live in the states with most of the high-paying jobs – California, Connecticut, New York, Maryland and the like – Trump and congressional Republicans increased federal income taxes for millions of people. That's because Trump and the Radical Republicans took away your deductions for state and local income and property taxes and mortgage interest. The number of Americans who itemize deductions, including charitable gifts, fell by three-fourths after Trump's tax cuts for the rich and the companies they own became law.
More pay going to workers at the top is a long-term trend that began long before Trump. What's significant in the newest data is how much that trend accelerated during the Trump years.
In 2016, just 143 workers made $50 million or more. That number jumped 50% in Trump's first year as president and stayed at that level in 2018 and 2019. But in 2020, Trump's last year as president, the number of workers paid $50 million and up soared to 358, 1.5 times as much as under Barack Obama.
Monthly gross paychecks for those 358 highest-paid workers averaged close to $8 million each. A worker at the median pay would have to labor for more than 225 years to get paid what these workers made in a month.
More For The Top
Even more significant, the share of all pay going to $1 million-and-up workers grew by a fourth during Trump's four years.
Their collective pay rose to 5.2 percent of all worker compensation, up from 4.2 percent of total compensation in 2016 under Obama. That means most workers got a thinner slice of the American wage pie under Trump, the opposite of MAGA pledges to improve most incomes and just as I predicted back in 2015 and 2016.
The median worker in 2020 made just $34,612, or less than $3,000 a month before taxes. During Trump's four years, inflation-adjusted median income rose by five percent.
By far the biggest increase in median pay in this century occurred in 2014 under Obama when Social Security data show an increase of 3.44 percent over 2013.
The average pay for all workers was $53,383.18, or less than $4,500 per month.
More than two-thirds of workers made less than the average. The average is higher than the median because all those very highly paid workers skew the average upward.
One more awful fact: The number of Americans with any work fell in 2020 by more than one percentage point. In 2020, more than 1.7 million fewer people found any paid work than in 2019. That's the first time this has happened in all of Trump's life.
While Trump at his inaugural promised that every act he took would be for the benefit of the "forgotten men and women" of America, it was all just another con.
His actions, again and again, favored the highly paid, the already rich, and, not least of all, the Trump-Kushner family.
David Cay Johnston is the editor-in-chief of DCReport. He is an investigative journalist and author, a specialist in economics and tax issues, and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting. He is also a former columnist for The National Memo.
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