MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen.
Here we are, two women, and soon we'll be tackling a topic lots of gals have been talking about lately, the new pill that stops periods entirely.
BRAND: First, though, men in their 30s are not doing as well financially as their dads did at the same age. A new study out today by a group of liberal and conservative think tanks says on average the sons make 12 percent less than their fathers.
The median income for a 30-something guy now is about the same as his age, $35,000 a year. Here to tell us more is one of the authors of the study, John Morton. Welcome to the program.
Mr. JOHN MORTON (Pew Charitable Trusts): Thanks very much. Thanks for having me.
BRAND: Well, is this the first time we're seeing the children not doing as well or better than their parents?
Mr. MORTON: We don't know that for sure. My guess is that during the Depression years and perhaps during other various transitional periods in the American economy there have been generations that have not done as well as their parents, and I'm sure the Depression years would play that out.
BRAND: It's a little counterintuitive because from all the economic news that I've read over the last three decades, the American economy has actually grown, productivity has increased, so you think incomes would do the same thing.
Mr. MORTON: Well, I think the report says two things. One is that while male income has been declining over the last 30 years, from 1974 to 2004, family incomes have, in fact, been rising, and I think that an important part of this story as well.
So the stories for families is not - is not as bad as the stories for men. The subtext, though, is that if you look at family incomes and as they have risen over the last 30 years - and again, these are families with men in their 30s - that rate of growth is only about nine percent over the last 30 years, and that compares to a growth rate of about 32 percent for a previous generation. So you see declining male incomes from men in their 30s and then growing rates for families, but a slowing growth rate, if you will.
BRAND: And growing rates because women are working.
Mr. MORTON: That's correct. Part of that income increase for families has been women - women entering the workforce over the last 30 years.
BRAND: But could there be also sort of a larger economic force taking place - globalization, for example?
Mr. MORTON: Without a doubt. Without a doubt. And I think that one of the things we're going to be doing as part of subsequent research reports is looking at those drivers of mobility. What in fact is driving these economic trends? Globalization for sure, workforce participation rates, absolutely, changing family structure is surely part of that story.
You've had a tremendous change in the family structure over the last three or four generations with respect to how many incomes you have per household. So we'll be looking at all of those issues in much more detail.
BRAND: This generation, and I'm a part of it, this generation has always complained that we get the table scraps left over from the baby-boomers, that they - they will always do better than we. They have bigger incomes, they could afford a house; do you think that's part of this?
Mr. MORTON: It could be. No doubt that there's generational envy. I'm sure that's part of what's happening here. You know, I do think, however, that the American dream has been premised on this bedrock principle that each generation will, you know, would do better than the one that came before, and that - that's kind of embedded, I think, in our national psyche. And so I think one has to wonder what will happen when the perception is that that dream may not be achievable for many Americans today.
What does that mean from a national psyche standpoint? You know, traditionally I think Americans have been willing to accept fairly large income inequalities within our own society with - because of their belief that they have a shot at making it to the top. And if the data suggests and if the perception of Americans increasingly is that they don't have a shot at the top, I think that's an important transition in our national attitude.
BRAND: And what about you, how old are you?
Mr. MORTON: I'm 36 years old.
Mr. MORTON: In this case I fear to say that I've fallen to that 12 percent that has - that has suffered some - some declines from my father's generation. My father, you know, lived the American dream. I wouldn't say rags to riches but certainly pulled himself up by his bootstraps and I benefited tremendously from my family's well-being. And I'm afraid that if I were to take my income at my age, adjusted, inflation adjusted, he would be probably more than 12 percent ahead of where I am now.
BRAND: You're working for a lowly non-profit.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORTON: Certainly not a corporate attorney's salary.
BRAND: John Morton of the Pew Charitable Trust. Thanks for joining us.
Mr. MORTON: Thank you very much for your interest in the topic.