The poor get poorer

A couple of recently released studies underline just how grim times are for folks on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

The federal minimum wage has reached a 51-year-low in terms of purchasing power, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Since 1997 the minimum wage has remained at $5.15 an hour. Last month Senate Republicans rebuffed efforts to increase the hourly wage to $7.25 over the next three years, voting the proposal down by a 52-46 margin. Over the last decade the buying power of minimum-wage earners has decreased by 20 percent.

"The decline in the value of the minimum wage is part and parcel of a disturbing feature of the recovery from the 2001 recession: its failure to significantly improve the well-being of most workers," the report, authored by Jared Bernstein and Isaac Shapiro, notes. "Instead, the benefits of our impressive productivity growth rates have largely flowed to those at the top of the income and wealth scale."

The Economic Policy Institute also released a study showing that in 2005 the average CEO earned 262 times the pay of the average worker. The average business executive made $10,982,000, according to the study, while the average worker earned $41,861. This is the second highest ratio recorded in the 40 years for which such data is available.(The largest gap was recorded in 2000, when CEO's earned 300 times as much as the average worker.)

The discrepancy between executive salaries and the people they employ has gone up dramatically over the decades. In 1965, the average CEO made just 24 times that of the average working stiff, while by 1989 the ratio had creeped up to 71.