The failure of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, is a nice benchmark for the start of the recession. It's not an entirely accurate one; the economy's slide had begun the year prior, which is why Lehman was in its difficult position. But these are questions for historians. What we're here to answer is: How has America responded since? Here are three (well, three-plus) charts that answer that question.
Chart 1: Who is actually recovering
Earlier this week we noted the work of economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, who analyzed how income growth changed under a variety of economic periods in recent American history. On Thursday, The Economist produced a version of the graph you see below, which we've made interactive.
The first set of bars shows average/1 percent/99 percent income change over the 1993 to 2012 period. The next five periods are described by Saez and Piketty as follows:
- Clinton Expansion, 1993-2000
- 2001 Recession, 2000-2002
- Bush Expansion, 2002-2007
- Great Recession, 2007-2009
- Recovery, 2009-2012
The short story: the aftermath of the recession has seen nearly all income gains go to the top one percent of income-earners. Those income-earners tend to see more fluctuation — during the recession, they saw incomes drop over 36 percent. But for the entire period, incomes for the top one percent grew 86 percent, compared to 6.6 percent for everyone else.
(One sort-of bright spot reported on Thursday: women have largely regained the jobs lost by women during the recession — in part because they were lower paying to begin with.)
Bonus chart: Income share for the top ten percent
We noted this earlier this week, but it bears repeating. The top 10 percent now takes home 50 percent of America's income, including capital gains.
Chart 2: How Americans perceive the recovery
A new survey from Pew Research Center offers some insight into how America perceives that recovery. Pew asked Americans to evaluate how much they themselves were affected by the economic downturn, and how they've bounced back.
The picture here reflects what you might expect based on that first chart. The less people earn, the more they indicated they were affected by the recession (the two lighter green bars) and the less likely they were to say they haven't yet recovered from that decline (the lightest bar).
Bonus chart: Who Americans think the government has helped
Pew also asked respondents to indicate who they though had seen the most benefit from the government's response to the recession. People were asked to rank how much help a variety of groups or institutions had been given.
Which brings us to the third graph.
Chart 3: How Americans feel about key players
This data comes from a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, though apparently only NBC reported the findings. (The paper's new "Mansion reporter" may pick it up in the future, who knows.) The graph shows the net approval — positive opinion percentage minus negative opinion — for a variety of people and institutions.
What's remarkable is how the opinions of Clinton and Obama (the two bars at left) reflect the growth of incomes among the 99 percent during their tenures. Under Clinton the 99 percent saw 20 percent income growth; his net approval is +28. Under Obama, the income growth was 0.4 percent; his net approval is 3 percent.
But the sore thumb sticking out here is the deeply negative opinion of Wall Street and its tenant, JPMorgan Chase. At New York magazine, Kevin Roose makes the case for why perceptions of the economic threat posed by Wall Street may be overblown, listing each critique and providing responses. His (defensive) conclusion:
I'm not taking the banks' side here. Really. And I wouldn't go as far as Morgan Stanley CEO Gorman in saying that the chance of another crisis in our lifetimes is "close to zero."
But pooh-poohing the progress we've made at reining in the financial system's danger since Lehman only has the effect of entrenching cynicism, and making genuine reformers feel underappreciated. Wall Street is a long way from perfect, but thanks to the efforts of a lot of well-intentioned people and institutions, it's a lot less of a threat to American prosperity than it was five years ago.
The problem for Wall Street, of course, is that the damage of five years ago is already done, and it's "Wall Street" — as shorthand for wealthy Americans — that has seen the benefit. Roose's arguments are strong, but as these charts show, they are also not going to change many minds. Killers who are unlikely to kill again are still subject to some critique.