US families make less than they did in 1989

America's middle class has seen its median income drop by $600 since 'The Simpsons' first went on the air.

By Jason Notte Sep 19, 2013 12:11PM
Family eating fast-food burgers (© Bananastock/Jupiterimages)The Census Bureau's poverty report issued earlier this week included some income statistics that were a bummer for middle-class families hoping for a return of the good old days of prosperity. Turns out that even in those days, families were bringing in roughly the same as now.

According to the Census Bureau, median annual household income in the U.S. in 2012 was $51,017, less than the 2011 median of $51,100. That 2011 number followed two straight years of decline and is nowhere near the $56,080 average salary from 1999. In fact, 2012's real median household income is still 8.7% lower than it was in 2007, just before the recession.

Even by those mileposts, the news is discouraging for the middle class. But before those relative boom years just before the crash of the early 2000s and the absolute cratering of 2008, median income in 1989 -- right before the recession of the early '90s -- was an inflation-adjusted $51,681, according to The Washington Post's Wonkblog.

That means middle-class families have not gained any ground in the past 24 years. Worse, they actually lost more than 600 bucks over that time. The price of the average movie ticket then was $4, compared with $8 now. And the price of a gallon of gas hovered around a dollar, compared with the $3.60 average now. But sure, why not dock middle-class families a few Benjamins and see how the economy likes it?

For members of Generation X wondering whether all the angst they had as teens about being  the first generation not to do as well as their parents was misplaced, fear not. It may be only a slight difference and the least of your worries. But middle-class Gen Xers are bringing home less than their parents were when they were sitting the family down for new episodes of "Doogie Howser," "Family Matters" and the first episodes of a little show called "The Simpsons."

That American incomes have changed roughly as much as the yellow, four-fingered, ageless cartoon family in the latter show should be cause for concern. Even with only Homer's salary at the Springfield nuclear power plant to support them, the Simpsons managed to grow from a Bart-led "Don't have a cow, man" novelty to a Homer-supported national icon with a movie deal.

In Simpsons terms, America's current middle class has regressed into badly drawn filler for The Tracy Ullman Show.

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Sep 19, 2013 1:46PM
When my health insurance keeps going up, all though I have not gotten a raise, of course I'm bringing home less.  I'll soon be working just for insurance. 
Sep 19, 2013 12:55PM
This all started in the 80's when congress started passing laws to give tax breaks to business to move their factories to other countries. They could fix this by taking the tax breaks away as a start.
Sep 19, 2013 1:34PM
NO PITY.  Keep voting in the incumbents and multi millionaires and what do you expect. 
Sep 19, 2013 12:42PM
What do you expect when our government lets millions of people walk across the border illegally, Let's their kids become citizens while also still letting large numbers of immigrants in legally. It has to stop, the country is full. We can only support so many people.
Sep 19, 2013 1:18PM
Don't complain Amerika. You voted for it - twice!
Sep 19, 2013 1:16PM



I know so many people on welfare, I've never seen anything like it!  The black unemployment is enormous, SNAP for all, terrible underemployment, a health care bill no one wants.  I don't know why folks still vote Democrat, they demonize those folks who do well for themselves, whether white, black, Asian, Hispanic, ect. Now, our families are losing money just trying to survive.


A life of bondage through Democratic welfare.

Sep 19, 2013 1:44PM
NAFTA and the outsourcing of jobs to other countries displaced the labor pool from the comfortable bubble in the United States to those places, forcing a radical drop in our standard of living. And some people, like the writer of this article, act as if there is no reasonable explanation and stunned that it happened.  Anyone with half a brain, before NAFTA, could have told this was going to happen.  The old American way of life is gone for good--unless, as one intelligent reader pointed out--we stop giving incentives to businesses to set up shop overseas. So instead of employing Americans who want to work, American businesses are putting the Chinese to work, not to mention Indians in New Delhi and all the third-world economics to which our economy has been outsourced.

Any company that sets up shop outside of the bounds of the United States is Unamerican, and should be closed.  Unless they want to continue the spiral of poverty for the poor and prosperity for the rich.  All these businesses have done is increase the polarity of the poor and the rich, and one day the revolt is coming.  There's still time to undo the damage, if only those CEO's would realize it, stop being motivated solely by profits and instead reinvent their patriotic spirit and employ Americans instead of aliens (no offense).

Sep 19, 2013 12:23PM
But we had a recovery summer in 2010.  How could this be?
Sep 19, 2013 1:16PM
The messiah was going to fix the economy in the first 4 years but we are on his second term and still people are hurting. 
Sep 19, 2013 1:10PM
Obama built that.  You got what you voted for, liberals, so shut up.
Sep 19, 2013 1:30PM
Sep 19, 2013 1:14PM

I am unsure how you expect any better.  The people of this country have elected a president who has not one clue how to be president, a congress who best action is to do nothing.  This country is adrift in every possible way.  We will likely never recover from the Obama Abyss.  The Food Stamp President will complete the destruction with Affordable Health Care.  We have, as a society, lost all facets of caring, manners and a sense of what is right.  We now celebrate deviancy.


Sep 19, 2013 1:41PM
Obama did what he said and focused on jobs like a laser beam........ only problem was he didn't tell us it was a death laser.
Sep 19, 2013 1:05PM
remember this is taking place while a democrat is president.  obamas liberal policies have killed the middle class
Sep 19, 2013 1:35PM
Sep 19, 2013 1:24PM

The Obama Years.


One day we will all look back on the days of Obozo and laugh and curse the foulest of curses.


Obozo vacations while the country declines!

Sep 19, 2013 1:20PM
You can retire if you don't need the money. STOP CONSUMING-GET SMALLER
Sep 19, 2013 12:35PM
Obama-nomics at work!  I wonder how much we will loose in the next 3 years?
Sep 19, 2013 2:21PM
You can blame anyone you want, but the fact is Americans have become victims. It used to be a country of fighters, not anymore. Now, most people just post on blogs complaining, and bend over for some soap in their behinds. 

When will America return to the days of the brave, and the free. I am disgusted everytime I see Wall Street surge, and my pocket empty. 
Sep 19, 2013 1:58PM
And yet some people continue to hold onto the myth that we're in recovery. To recover is to get better. What is better about lower wages? Wages that will only drop further due to corporate greed, runaway government spending and a little thing called amnesty! Our government is leading us straight into oblivion and by not voting out the offenders we are blindly following!
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