Economic snapshot | Budget Taxes and Public Investment

We Aren’t Going Broke

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Incomes, on average, have grown substantially over the last three decades, both in absolute terms and per person. The good news is that projections show comparable income growth over the next three decades, too. The chart shows the annual levels of per capita income for 1980-2010 and 2010-40. Adjusting for inflation, per capita income was $28,684 in 1980, steadily increased to $47,737 by 2010, and is expected to rise to just over $75,000 by 2040. With this level of past and future income growth, we as a nation are not broke—governments can afford the investments and services we need, and employers can provide rising compensation to employees.

And we won’t be broke if we make appropriate choices. The future prosperity of the broad middle class hinges on the economic policies and structures that determine how this future income is generated and shared. For instance, federal and state governments certainly face deficits today, and those deficits are primarily the result of tax policies (Bush-era cuts for the wealthy) and the impact of the Great Recession (which will lessen with time). But with the per capita income growth over the next three decades projected to match that of the past three, we have the means to pay for the government programs we need, and should do so.