Monday, April 28, 2014

Income Inequality vs. Lifetime Earnings

So the latest fad among our political class is to show concern for income inequality.  The purpose of income inequality is to stir up hatred against 'the rich' and scapegoat this amorphous group for any financial struggles the middle class might be experiencing.

One thing I find interesting about the new income inequality wars is the way the professional class, government bureaucrats and academics, tries to march in solidarity with the working class.  The bureaucrats and academics have good reason to try and distract others with income inequality.  Pensions for government employees are becoming a huge burden on state and municipal governments, and could lead to higher taxes that could hit the middle class hard.  The costs of education is also hitting the middle class, as many struggle to pay their children's tuition.

The government bureaucrats and academics might like to say they are in the same financial boat as the working class, and a snapshot of their income might back them up.  However, a snapshot of yearly income overlooks potential differences in expected lifetime earnings.  Even if the yearly incomes of the academics and bureaucrats are modest, they can earn a solid amount over a lifetime as they can work at their jobs into their 60's.  Tenured academics can easily pull a paycheck in their old age, and government bureaucrats have generous pensions that pay out until the day they die.  Meanwhile, the working class has jobs in manual labor that they might have to retire from in their 50's when their body gives out.

The professional classes are also the beneficiaries of perks that don't count against their base incomes.  Most university and government employees get gold plated health insurance they don't have to pay much for.  A lot of academics also get free tuition for their children.  At private schools that can be a value of $200,000 per kid, and that income is tax free.

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