Occupy Wall St: Shrinking Incomes Fuel Protestor Anger

Last Updated Oct 21, 2011 4:22 PM EDT

It's been almost four weeks since the first Occupy Wall Street march started in lower Manhattan. Since then, the movement has spread to 25 cities across the US and is going international. I ran into a few protesters last week on a subway and was able to chat with them about what brought them out to the protests.

Almost to a person, each member of my small sample group of five repeated the mantra of the movement: "the 99 percent are taking action against the greed and corruption of the 1 percent." Once we got beyond the soundbites, what came up was great frustration that boils down to this simple concept: we are sick of hearing about the recovery for corporate America, specifically for Wall Street firms and big banks, when we don't feel like we have participated in the recovery at all.

New data supports that sentiment. The New York Times cites a new study by two former Census Bureau officials, which showed that real median annual household income fell more during the economic recovery (down 6.7 percent to $49,909 from June 2009 to June 2011) than during the recession itself (down 3.2 percent to $53,518 from December 2007 to June 2009).

That sobering news stands in stark contrast to corporations, which have seen a massive profit recovery. Economists at Northeastern University found that from the second quarter of 2009, when the recovery began to the fourth quarter of 2010, "corporate profits captured 88 percent of the growth in real national income while aggregate wages and salaries accounted for only slightly more than 1 percent". The money that companies have earned during the recovery has mostly stayed within corporate America and has not trickled down into higher wages nor has it created enough jobs to put some of the 14 million unemployed Americans back to work.

Companies have every right to earn money and even keep it, but if you want to better understand why so many protesters are taking to the streets, the jobless (see: "September Jobs Improve as Crisis Persists") and wage-less recovery is a good place to start. Perhaps if more people felt like they too were participating in the recovery, they wouldn't feel so desperate and would not be seeking a repository for their financial anxieties. Before dismissing these protests, as so many have, it's worth understanding that real economic realities provide the underpinnings to the Occupy Wall St protests.

Image by Flickr User R_SH, CC 2.0

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    Jill Schlesinger, CFP®, is the Emmy-nominated, Business Analyst for CBS News. She covers the economy, markets, investing and anything else with a dollar sign on TV, radio (including her nationally syndicated radio show), the web and her blog, "Jill on Money." Prior to her second career at CBS, Jill spent 14 years as the co-owner and Chief Investment Officer for an independent investment advisory firm. She began her career as a self-employed options trader on the Commodities Exchange of New York, following her graduation from Brown University.