Incomes Rise — Are Happy Days Here Again?


JD Hancock | Flickr

Wait, what? U.S. household incomes are way up. That’s right, you’re not hallucinating — new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show the median American household income rose 5.2 percent in 2015, to $56,500 (The Wall Street Journal). That’s lower than it stood at the most recent economic peaks, in the mid 2000s and the late 1990s, but still, it’s impressive — and the fastest growth rate on record, too (The Washington Post). The poverty rate is also down, as is the percentage of the population without health insurance. The long tide of recovery is finally lifting a whole lot of boats, with the gains spread widely across the population. The one major exception? People who live outside of metropolitan areas aren’t gaining. Here, as in so many other realms, cities are driving the future. The big questions now are: Can we keep these gains up? Will they make a difference in the perception of inequality stoked by long-term trends in income distribution? And will populist discontent simmer down — or will we face a “revolution of rising expectations,” as people who get a little taste of economic betterment demand a fuller portion?

Sugar’s road to pariah-hood. Industries like the tobacco business don’t become pariahs overnight: The lengthy process starts with a demonstrated danger to the public and ends with strict regulations and a lot of corporations giving themselves new names. One of the most important in-between steps is the revelation that the industry manipulated scientific research to hoodwink the public. Big Sugar just checked off that box (Bloomberg). A new paper in JAMA Internal Medicine documents a successful 1960s-era effort by the sugar lobby, which paid Harvard scientists to emphasize the heart-health dangers of fats and minimize links between heart disease and sugar. Yes, those were different times, but we’re still living in the world these policy influencers shaped. If the sugar-beverage industry hopes to escape the dead end that swallowed up Big Tobacco and threatens the fossil fuel industry, it needs to come clean and demonstrate that it’s not still polluting our data supply. (For more on the sugar story, see our NewCo Shift Dialog with Dr. Jordan Shlain and our piece on sugar here.)

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