The Public Interest

Equality, opportunity, and the “good job”

Bradley R. Schiller

Spring 1976

THE accumulated evidence suggests that the distribution of income has been remarkably immune to major changes in economic conditions and public policy. Even the cataclysm of the Great Depression caused only a modest change in the relative shares of the rich and poor. In 1947, the richest 20 per cent of all families received 43 per cent of total income, while the poorest 20 per cent received only 5.0 per cent; in 1974, the income pie was distributed much the same way, with the richest getting 41 per cent of the total income and the poorest getting only 5.4 per cent. During the period from 1947 to 1974, we not only experienced at least five business cycles but also experienced a tremendous growth of government programs designed to redistribute both incomes and opportunities.

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