Wednesday, November 16, 2011

American Inequality: the Evidence from the Shopping Aisles

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth and income in the United States. For example, a recent study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that between 1979 and 2007, after-tax income grew by 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households, compared to 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent of households.

The very different realities for those at the top and bottom of the income distribution were made startlingly clear in this piece from today's New York Times. The article compares the recent performance and near-term outlook for luxury retailer Saks vs. discount retailer Wal-Mart. The executives of those companies tie their recent and expected future performance in large part to the economic well-being of their core shoppers. These quotes were most telling:

“We hear from some shoppers that they believe it will be more difficult than ever to afford holiday meals for their families...We understand their concern, and we see it every month in our customers’ purchasing behavior.”--  William Simon, President and CEO of Wal-Mart US.

"I feel good about the luxury consumer."-- Stephen Sadove, Chairman and Chief Executive, Saks

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