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Obama: Bitterness? Anger? Yes. And for Good Reason.

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Let the facts speak for themselves. Barack Obama told it mostly correctly last week when he said that workers in many towns in America were angry and bitter. For coming closer to telling the unfiltered truth than most politicians, he was lambasted by his political opponents. That he put religious faith in the mix was admittedly an exaggeration and therefore an error. But it shouldn't draw attention from the facts and it is yet another example of how much surer his sense of what has happened to America is that the views of his opponents, Democrat or Republican.

Consider, for example, how male workers with no more than a high school education are doing? They have been clobbered by the economy for a long time, not just in the 2000s.

Here's a brief table put together by Nikos Papanikolaou and me at the New School (the Schwartz Center for Economic Analysis). These are the wages or salaries of the typical, or median, male high school worker, by age group. They come from Census Bureau data.

Males:High School
(12th grade/diploma)

Year            25-34            35-44            45-54

1979        $36,865        $42,358        $44,102

2005        $30,000        $37,550        $39,000

The typical male in the age group 25-to-34 made nearly $37,000 in 1979; the typical male in that age group in 2005 (about the same as in 2008) makes only $30,000. The typical 35-to-44 year-old made 42,300 in 1979, the typical male in that age group today makes 37,550 today. Finally, the typical high school male worker aged 45 to 54 made $44,102 in 1979; the typical male today in that age group makes $39,000. All this despite the Clinton boom, which didn't last long enough to compensate for the long stagnation of earnings that preceded it.

Thus, as others have noted using different data, a typical man with no more than a high school education made much less than his father did thirty years ago.

Bitter? You bet. Once the large majority made gains over time in America. No longer. And it's probably worse in Pennsylvania, with its many lost manufacturing jobs.

College educated workers did much better, right? Yes, there's a sizable gap. But their incomes rose slowly by any standard as well since the late 1960s. In fact, since 1969, there have been long stretches of time in which the incomes of typical college workers did not rise or even fell.

Below is a table to peruse. One example. The typical college worker aged 45-54 made less in 2005 than the typical college worker of that age in 1979. Check the table to see how often such long-term stagnation or even outright declines occurred for the college educated in the past forty years or so.

College
(Four years/degree)

Year             25-34             35-44             45-54

1969        $45,634        $54,760        $52,479

1979        $40,489        $54,816        $64,783

1989        $44,925        $54,731        $66,105

2000        $45,342        $58,945        $63,480

2005        $47,000        $63,000        $64,000

Of course, workers are bitter and angry. That may not explain the rise of evangelicism, though my strong guess is that it is an important factor -- and that is not a put-down of religion.

But it certainly helps explain why workers turned against government and why some like tax cuts more than social spending.

Bitter? Angry? Yes. Let's not tell them they're not, or that they have no reason to be. That's truly condescending.