U.S. stocks are hovering near a record high, a stunning comeback since March that underscores the new phase the economy has entered: The wealthy have mostly recovered. The bottom half remain far from it.
This dichotomy is evident in many facets of the economy, especially in employment. Jobs are fully back for the highest wage earners, but fewer than half the jobs lost this spring have returned for those making less than $20 an hour, according to a new labor data analysis by John Friedman, an economics professor at Brown University and co-director of Opportunity Insights.
Though recessions almost always hit lower-wage workers the hardest, the pandemic is causing especially large gaps between rich and poor, and between White and minority households. It is also widening the gap between big and small businesses. Some of the largest companies, such as Nike and Best Buy, are enjoying their highest stock prices ever while many smaller businesses fight for survival.
Some economists have started to call this a “K-shaped” recovery because of the diverging prospects for the rich and poor, and they say policy failures in Washington are exacerbating the problems.
As much of the economy has moved to work-from-home mode, the shift has mainly benefited college-educated employees who do most of their work on computers. A Fed survey found that 63 percent of workers with college degrees could perform their jobs entirely from home, while only 20 percent of workers with high school diplomas or less could work from home.
Richer Americans also have seen their wealth recover — or even surge — as home values have jumped to their highest level ever (even in inflation-adjusted terms), according to the National Association of Realtors.