NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Americans Better Off in the New Economy

February 20, 2004

Despite recent growth in the stock market and improving worker productivity, some have argued that the middle class and the poor are getting left behind in today's economy. While poverty has not been eradicated and inequities do inevitably persist, most conservatives have tended to take a more optimistic view.

For instance, in a recent book by Michael Cox and Richard Alm, "Myths of Rich and Poor: Why We're Better Off Than We Think," the authors reveal that, by most measures, Americans are better off today than they ever have been before:

  • Working hours have decreased dramatically -- the average American worked 30.2 hours of work a week in 1996, down from 33.5 in 1973 and 36.6 in 1950.
  • Households have become far less hectic: Americans averaged 4 hours and 12 minutes a day on housework in 1950, but just 3 hours and 30 minutes by the late 1990s.
  • Americans are also retiring sooner, with the average age at retirement falling from 64 in 1973 to 62.2 by the late 1990s.
  • The poverty rate has fallen from 13.8 percent in 1995 to 11.7 percent in 2001.
  • Moreover, since 1995, hunger among children has been cut roughly in half and the child poverty rate fallen from 20.8 percent to just 16.3 percent in 2001 -- the lowest level on record.

Source: Amy Ridenour, "Daily Life: Is Our Economy a Scandal?" National Center for Public Policy Research, January 2004.

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