The divide between rich and poor is widening in developed nations, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

According to the new data, economic disparity has risen more from 2007 to 2010 than in the preceding 12 years. Over this period, the OECD has documented increasing income inequality caused by the financial crisis, which it says is “squeezing income and putting pressure on inequality and poverty.”

In 2010, the richest 10 percent of people across 33 OECD member states earned 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10 percent. That factor is up from 9 in 2007. The largest differences among OECD countries were found in Chile, Mexico, Turkey, the United States and Israel, while the lowest were in Iceland, Slovenia, Norway and Denmark.

Levels of income inequality have worsened across three-quarters of all OECD countries since 2007. This gap rose most rapidly in nations where the euro crisis has hit hardest, coinciding with soaring unemployment. For example, in Spain and Italy, the average income of the top 10 percent stayed relatively stable, but the poor became drastically poorer.

Income inequality in the United States and Latin America — particularly Chile and Mexico — has tended higher than in Europe. This trend continued into 2010. The top five most unequal countries (in descending order) were Chile, Mexico, Turkey, the United States and Israel. Portugal, the European nation with the highest income inequality, was ranked sixth.

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(More detail in this link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient)

 

Traditionally, OECD countries have had lower levels of inequality than non-OECD nations such as India, China and Russia. Despite the economic downturn, the economies of China and India grew above the OECD average over the past decade and are continuing to develop. Though these emerging economies have reduced levels of poverty, they have also seen increased levels of income inequality.

In most OECD countries, the growing gulf between rich and poor was alleviated slightly by welfare support. While most countries experienced increases in disposable income inequality and relative poverty, the levels in 2010 were only slightly higher than in 2007, perhaps due to the deployment of fiscal stimulus packages.

The OECD report warns that if governments continue to cut benefits programs and pursue austerity policies, levels of inequality could continue to grow. Michael Förster, senior analyst at the OECD social policy division, said that they have taken this report as an opportunity to “raise the red flag” about the necessity for social welfare provisions in softening the blow of the economic downturn.

“At this stage in most countries, including most European countries, the crisis is not over. Just yesterday, France announced that it is in a recession,” Förster said. “The problem is that the focus of governments has shifted from stimulus to austerity measures.”

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría explained that governments must find ways of growing their economies while supporting individuals who are most at risk.

“These worrying findings underline the need to protect the most vulnerable in society, especially as governments pursue the necessary task of bringing public spending under control,” Gurría said in a statement. “Policies to boost jobs and growth must be designed to ensure fairness, efficiency and inclusiveness. Among these policies, reforming tax systems is essential to ensure that everyone pays their fair share and also benefits and receives the support they need.”

 

By Eliza Mackintosh, May 16, 2013, (The Washington Post)

In a corner of a sprawling factory in this coastal southern city, sewing machines that stitched blouses and shirts for Lever Style Inc.’s clients now gather dust. As the din on the factory floor has dropped, so, too, has the payroll. Over the past two years, Lever Style’s employee count in China has declined by one-third to 5,000 workers.

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The company in April began moving apparel production for Japanese retail chain Uniqlo to Vietnam, where wages can be half those in China. Lever Style also is testing a shift to India for U.S. department-store chain Nordstrom Inc. JWN -0.78% and moving production for other customers.

It’s a matter of survival. After a decade of nearly 20% annual wage increases in China, Lever Style says it can no longer make money here.

First in a Series: China’s Changing Work Force

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Thomas Lee for The Wall Street JournalA board shows workers’ statuses at each production line at Lever Style’s factory in Shenzhen, China.

“Operating in Southern China is a break-even proposition at best,” says Stanley Szeto, a former investment banker who took over the family business from his father in 2000.

Companies from leather-goods chainCoach Inc. COH -1.05% to clogs makerCrocs Inc. CROX -1.25% also are shifting some manufacturing to other countries as the onetime factory to the world becomes less competitive because of sharply rising wages and a persistent labor shortage. The moves allow the companies to keep consumer prices in check, although competition for labor in places such as Vietnam and Cambodia is pushing up wages in those countries as well.

At Crocs, 65% of its colorful shoes are expected to be made in China this year through third-party manufacturers, down from 80% last year. Coach will reduce its overall production in China to about 50% by 2015 from more than 80% in 2011 so the handbag maker isn’t too reliant on one country, a spokeswoman says.

Manufacturing companies are bypassing China and moving factories to cheaper locales in Southeast Asia. Lever Style’s Stanley Szeto explains why his company is gradually moving production to Vietnam and Indonesia.

Some migration of apparel manufacturing from China is expected, and even encouraged by the government, as the country’s economy matures. As other Asian nations become efficient at mass manufacturing, China must embrace research and high-technology production to transform its economy as South Korea and Japan once did. But healthy economic growth requires that China expand its service sector and create higher-skilled manufacturing jobs at a rapid clip to compensate.

“If costs continue to rise, but China is unable to become more innovative or develop home-grown technologies, then the jobs that move offshore won’t be replaced by anything,” says Andrew Polk, a Beijing-based economist for the Conference Board, a research group for big American and European companies.

Changes Under Way in China

Thomas Lee for The Wall Street JournalCheng Pei Quan is a winner of the ‘Sweing Olympics’ at a factory. Manufacturers are looking beyond bonuses to retain workers and boost production in China.

China continues to be the developing world’s largest recipient of foreign direct investment, attracting $112 billion last year. But that was down 3.7% from a year earlier. And exports still are rising in the double-digit percentages. Growth is slowing.

Here in the manufacturing hub of Guangdong province, Lever Style’s factories provide a glimpse into the future of China’s apparel industry.

The company, which is based in Hong Kong, used to manufacture its clients’ clothing at three factories in China. But rising labor costs have forced the apparel maker for Armani Collezioni, John Varvatos and Hugo Boss to focus on what it does best: helping clients develop clothing while the company outsources a growing part of production.

In five years, Lever Style expects about 80% of its production to be outsourced to factories it manages throughout Asia, and half its clothing to be made outside China.

As it shifts production to Vietnam, Lever Style says it is able to offer clients a discount of up to 10% per garment. That is attractive to U.S. retailers, whose profit margins average 1% to 2%, according to the U.S.-based National Retail Federation.

This shift is already well under way. Lever Style expects that a few years from now, 40% of the clothes it makes for Uniqlo, one of Lever Style’s biggest customers, will come from Vietnam and 60% from China.

As China production slows for Uniqlo and other clients, Lever Style plans to return one factory here to the landlord and consolidate its shrinking workforce at the other two.

Uniqlo, the biggest apparel chain in Asia, says it makes 70% of its clothing in China but would like to cut its production in the country to two-thirds, mainly to reduce costs. A spokesman for parent company Fast Retailing Co.9983.TO -1.81% says the retailer has an “ongoing dialogue” with contract manufacturers of its 70 factories world-wide about where to produce its clothing.

Nordstrom, which works with 450 factories in nearly 40 countries, says cost is important but so are product quality and factory working conditions. The company hasn’t seen a “material change” in how much of its apparel is being made in China in recent years, a spokesman says.

Many retailers are less concerned about where a product is made than about price, delivery and quality, says Lever Style’s Mr. Szeto.

Still, he says, while China’s transformation of its economy is “the right move for the country, I see this as a huge challenge for us as a company.”

 

SHENZHEN, China—Kathy Chu, May1, 2013

There’s a lot of debate about the job and economic prospects for the current generation of college graduates. The fact that student debt has ballooned so much only exacerbates the tension of whether graduates will be able to find good jobs in a timely manner.

Despite all this, the latest jobs report confirms that folks with a college degree (red line) have an unemployment rate far lower than those who don’t have one (blue line).

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That being said, it is nice to see that the unemployment rate for those without a college degree took a nice leg down in March, dropping from 7.9 percent to 7.6 percent. In this chart, we zoom in on the blue line above, and we made it a bar chart so you can clearly see the change each month.

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As you can see, it’s been a good several months for the population that didn’t go to college, though the job prospects for this group lag significantly behind those of people who did graduate.

 

By Joe Weisenthal, Apr. 7, 2013, “Business Insider”

 

 

Elizabeth Warren said that a much higher baseline would be appropriate if wages were tied to productivity gains.

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Digital Vision-Getty Images-Getty Images

What if U.S. workers were paid more as the nation’s productivity increased?
If we had adopted that policy decades ago, the minimum wage would now be about $22 an hour, said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) last week. Warren was speaking at a hearing held by the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Warren was talking to Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the issue of minimum wage. “With a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, what happened to the other $14.75?” she asked Dube. “It sure didn’t go to the worker.”
The $22 minimum wage Warren referred to came from a 2012 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. It said that the minimum wage would have hit $21.72 an hour last year if it had been tied to the increases seen in worker productivity since 1968. Even if the minimum wage got only one-fourth the pickup as the rate of productivity, it would now be $12.25 an hour instead of $7.25.
Some of the news media took this to mean that Warren is calling for a minimum-wage increase to $22 an hour. That doesn’t appear to be the case. She seems to be merely pointing out that the minimum wage has grown more slowly than other facets of the economy.
Warren is taking some hits on Twitter for her comments. One user describes her as “clueless and out of touch” while another calls her “delusional.” But other users are praising her arguments as “compelling,” saying she is “asking the right questions regarding minimum wage.”
By Kim  Peterson

Folks ages 29 to 37 have watched their net worth plummet over the past few decades, and there are several reasons.

Even after a damaging economic crisis and recession, some American households are recovering nicely. If you’re 47 years old or older, you’ve actually done pretty well in the past few decades.
But younger generations are just getting poorer, according to a new study from the Urban Institute. People younger than 47 just haven’t been able to accumulate much money or build up their net worth through homebuying or other investments.
The authors looked at how Americans’ average net worth has changed from 1983 through 2010 and found a dramatic difference between older and younger generations.
Those 56 to 64 and those older than 74 more than doubled their net worth, with gains of 120% and 149%, respectively. The picture was still rosy for those 47 to 55 and 65 to 73, with a rise in net worth of 76% and 79%.
But all that progress comes to a halt with younger generations. Those 38 to 46 saw their net worth rise by just 26%, and those 29 to 37 saw their net worth drop by 21%.
Why are young people getting left behind? One of the study’s authors, Gene Steuerle, says there are several factors:
The housing bubble. Younger homeowners were more likely to have the steepest mortgage balances and the least home equity built up. Consider a home that fell in value by 20%, Steuerle writes. A younger owner with only 20% equity would see a 100% drop in housing net worth, but an older owner with the mortgage paid off would see only a 20% drop.
The stock market. Older investors were more likely to invest in bonds and other assets that have recovered or gone up in value since the Great Recession.
Lower employment. Younger Americans are seeing higher unemployment rates. They’re also seeing lower relative minimum wages.
Less savings. Younger people are seeing a bigger cut of their pay taken out to pay for Social Security and health care.
“Maybe, more than just maybe, it’s time to think about investing in the young,” Steuerle writes.

By Kim Peterson

Young graduates are in debt, out of work and on their parents’ couches. People in their 30s and 40s can’t afford to buy homes or have children. Retirees are earning near-zero interest on their savings.

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In the current listless economy, every generation has a claim to having been most injured. But the Labor Department’s latest jobs snapshot and other recent data reports present a strong case for crowning baby boomers as the greatest victims of the recession and its grim aftermath.

These Americans in their 50s and early 60s — those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security— have lost the most earnings power of any age group, with their household incomes 10 percent below what they made when the recovery began three years ago, according to Sentier Research, a data analysis company.

Their retirement savings and home values fell sharply at the worst possible time: just before they needed to cash out. They are supporting both aged parents and unemployed young-adult children, earning them the inauspicious nickname “Generation Squeeze.”

New research suggests that they may die sooner, because their health, income security and mental well-being were battered by recession at a crucial time in their lives. A recent study by economists at Wellesley College found that people who lost their jobs in the few years before becoming eligible for Social Security lost up to three years from their life expectancy, largely because they no longer had access to affordable health care.

“If I break my wrist, I lose my house,” said Susan Zimmerman, 62, a freelance writer in Cleveland, of the distress that a medical emergency would wreak upon her finances and her quality of life. None of the three part-time jobs she has cobbled together pay benefits, and she says she is counting the days until she becomes eligible for Medicare.

Arynita Armstrong, 60, at her home in Willis, Tex. She last worked five years ago. When you're older, they just see gray hair and they write you off, she says.

In the meantime, Ms. Zimmerman has fashioned her own regimen of home remedies — including eating blue cheese instead of taking penicillin and consuming plenty of orange juice, red wine, coffee and whatever else the latest longevity studies recommend — to maintain her health, which she must do if she wants to continue paying the bills.

“I will probably be working until I’m 100,” she said.

As common as that sentiment is, the job market has been especially unkind to older workers.

Unemployment rates for Americans nearing retirement are far lower than those for young people, who are recently out of school, with fewer skills and a shorter work history. But once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding another one. Over the last year, the average duration of unemployment for older people was 53 weeks, compared with 19 weeks for teenagers, according to the Labor Department’s jobs report released on Friday.

The lengthy process is partly because older workers are more likely to have been laid off from industries that are downsizing, like manufacturing. Compared with the rest of the population, older people are also more likely to own their own homes and be less mobile than renters, who can move to new job markets.

Older workers are more likely to have a disability of some sort, perhaps limiting the range of jobs that offer realistic choices. They may also be less inclined, at least initially, to take jobs that pay far less than their old positions.

Displaced boomers also believe they are victims of age discrimination, because employers can easily find a young, energetic worker who will accept lower pay and who can potentially stick around for decades rather than a few years.

“When you’re older, they just see gray hair and they write you off,” said Arynita Armstrong, 60, of Willis, Tex. She has been looking for work for five years since losing her job at a mortgage company. “They’re afraid to hire you, because they think you’re a health risk. You know, you might make their premiums go up. They think it’ll cost more money to invest in training you than it’s worth it because you might retire in five years.

“Not that they say any of this to your face,” she added.

When older workers do find re-employment, the compensation is usually not up to the level of their previous jobs, according to data from the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

In a survey by the center of older workers who were laid off during the recession, just one in six had found another job, and half of that group had accepted pay cuts. Fourteen percent of the re-employed said the pay in their new job was less than half what they earned in their previous job.

John Agati, 56, lost his job in 2009, and has had part-time jobs.

“I just say to myself: ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve this?’ ” said John Agati, 56, of Norwalk, Conn., whose last full-time job, as a merchandise buyer and product developer, ended four years ago when his employer went out of business.

That position paid $90,000, and his résumé lists stints at companies like American Express, Disney and USA Networks. Since being laid off, though, he has worked a series of part-time, low-wage, temporary positions, including selling shoes at Lord & Taylor and making sales calls for a limo company.

The last few years have taken a toll not only on his family’s finances, but also on his feelings of self-worth.

“You just get sad,” Mr. Agati said. “I see people getting up in the morning, going out to their careers and going home. I just wish I was doing that. Some people don’t like their jobs, or they have problems with their jobs, but at least they’re working. I just wish I was in their shoes.”

He said he cannot afford to go back to school, as many younger people without jobs have done. Even if he could afford it, economists say it is unclear whether older workers like him benefit much from more education.

“It just doesn’t make sense to offer retraining for people 55 and older,” said Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin. “Discrimination by age, long-term unemployment, the fact that they’re now at the end of the hiring queue, the lack of time horizon just does not make it sensible to invest in them.”

Many displaced older workers are taking this message to heart and leaving the labor force entirely.

The share of older people applying for Social Security early spiked during the recession as people sought whatever income they could find. The penalty they will pay is permanent, as retirees who take benefits at age 62 — as Ms. Zimmerman did, to help make her mortgage payments — will receive 30 percent less in each month’s check for the rest of their lives than they would if they had waited until full retirement age (66 for those born after 1942).

Those not yet eligible for Social Security are increasingly applying for another, comparable kind of income support that often goes to people who expect never to work again: disability benefits. More than one in eight people in their late 50s is now on some form of federal disability insurance program, according to Mark Duggan, chairman of the department of business economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

The very oldest Americans, of course, were battered by some of the same ill winds that tormented those now nearing retirement, but at least the most senior were cushioned by a more readily available social safety net. More important, in a statistical twist, they may have actually benefited from the financial crisis in the most fundamental way: prolonged lives.

Death rates for people over 65 have historically fallen during recessions, according to a November 2011 study by economists at the University of California, Davis. Why? The researchers argue that weak job markets push more workers into accepting relatively undesirable work at nursing homes, leading to better care for residents.