4
INCOME DISTRIBUTION
OF AMERICAN LABOR

Robert J. Lampman

The typical American worker of today is remarkably affluent in comparison to his grandfather or to workers of most other countries of the world. In 1964, the median family income was 6000 dollars. In 1914, it was approximately 2500 dollars (in dollars of 1964 purchasing power). Projecting the historic rate of increase in per capita and per family income suggests that the typical worker in the next generation may expect an income of about 10,000 dollars.

Americans, who make up only 6 per cent of the world's population, produce and consume over one-third of the world's output of goods and services. Their income level is almost five or six times as high as the world's average—about twice that of Western Europe and about ten times that of Asia. This income gap has narrowed with reference to some fast-growing economies such as Japan, but, for the most part, comparative rates of growth in per capita income portend a continuing—and in some cases a widening—gap between our economic attainment and that of most other nations. Of the world's 3 billion people, only a minority live at much above subsistence levels. In this world picture, the United States stands as a mountain top—and some other nations are lesser parts of the same mountain range of high income—in a swamp of poverty and misery. The striking difference in living standards is highlighted by the fact that the average income of one of the most disadvantaged American groups, the Negroes, is above that of Frenchmen and Englishmen.

The median family income of 6000 dollars is associated with some amenities that rank with those reserved for conquerors and

-58-

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Labor in a Changing America
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