Politicians and economists have been noting the growing income inequality in the US over the last couple of years.
Now, businesses are noticing too, says Nelson Schwartz on The NYT, given the consumption-driven nature of our economy:
In 2012, the top 5 percent of earners were responsible for 38 percent of domestic consumption, up from 28 percent in 1995, the researchers found.
Even more striking, the current recovery has been driven almost entirely by the upper crust, according to Mr. Fazzari (of Washington University in St Louis) and Mr. Cynamon (of the Federal Reserve in St. Louis). Since 2009, the year the recession ended, inflation-adjusted spending by this top echelon has risen 17 percent, compared with just 1 percent among the bottom 95 percent.
More broadly, about 90 percent of the overall increase in inflation-adjusted consumption between 2009 and 2012 was generated by the top 20 percent of households in terms of income, according to the study, which was sponsored by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a research group in New York.
The effects of this phenomenon are now rippling through one sector after another in the American economy, from retailers and restaurants to hotels, casinos and even appliance makers.
For example, luxury gambling properties like Wynn and the Venetian in Las Vegas are booming, drawing in more high rollers than regional casinos in Atlantic City, upstate New York and Connecticut, which attract a less affluent clientele who are not betting as much, said Steven Kent, an analyst at Goldman Sachs.
Among hotels, revenue per room in the high-end category, which includes brands like the Four Seasons and St. Regis, grew 7.5 percent in 2013, compared with a 4.1 percent gain for midscale properties like Best Western, according to Smith Travel Research.
While spending among the most affluent consumers has managed to propel the economy forward, the sharpening divide is worrying, Mr. Fazzari said.
“It’s going to be hard to maintain strong economic growth with such a large proportion of the population falling behind,” he said. “We might be able to muddle along — but can we really recover?”
Businesses adapting to changing consumer spend is one thing, and good for their investors and employees. But…many of today’s large successful American companies built on a vibrant middle class (that emerged following WWII) and the promise of upward mobility. So if that category starts to shrink, what does that mean for the US, businesses and middle-class jobs that these businesses would have created, in the next 2-3 decades?