National Consumers League

Luxury goods sales highlight rich-poor gap


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By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director A front page New York Times story that ran yesterday, Aug. 4, begins like this: “Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with a $9,010 price. Neiman Marcus has sold out in almost every size of Christian Louboutin ‘Bianca’ platform pumps, at $775 a pair. Mercedes-Benz said it sold more cars last month in the United States than it had in any July in five years.” In the perverse world we live in, the 9+ percent unemployment rate for millions of Americans won’t budge, more than 50 million of us are without health insurance, and more than 5 million citizens are living solely on food stamps – that’s right, they have no other resources, so food stamps are their only safety net. And the gap between rich and poor in America continues to grow. In 1915, an era in which the Rockefellers and Carnegies dominated American industry, the richest 1 percent of Americans earned roughly 18 percent of all income. Today, the top 1 percent account for 24 percent of all income. During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth. Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1 percent. That’s because the increase in productivity wasn’t shared; it was commandeered by the rich and the very rich. Today, sadly, the vast majority of Americans live a far more modest existence, and many are poor. Meanwhile, the Times article quotes a designer brand that sells shoes that cost $2000 each. That’s hard to fathom – or to justify - in this economy.