Rising Inequality in the New Gilded Age for Some People

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice

New Orleans   A new report from the Economic Policy Institute leaves little room for doubt:  inequality is rising faster than a hit record on the Billboard top-40 charts!

The executive summary is crystal clear:

Income inequality has risen in every state since the 1970s and, in most states, it has grown in the post–Great Recession era. From 2009 to 2015, the incomes of the top 1 percent grew faster than the incomes of the bottom 99 percent in 43 states and the District of Columbia. The top 1 percent captured half or more of all income growth in nine states. In 2015, a family in the top 1 percent nationally received, on average, 26.3 times as much income as a family in the bottom 99 percent.

Rising inequality is not just a story of those on Wall Street, in Hollywood, or in the Silicon Valley reaping outsized rewards. Measured by the ratio of top 1 percent to bottom 99 percent income in 2015, eight states plus the District of Columbia, 45 metropolitan areas, and 139 counties had gaps wider than the national gap. In fact, unequal income growth since the 1970s has pushed the top 1 percent’s share of all income above 23.9 percent (the 1928 national peak share, according to Piketty and Saez) in five states, 30 metro areas, and 78 counties.

Dig a little deeper and run your fingers through their charts and regionally the gap is growing fastest in the West and, small comfort, slowest in the South, but it’s still bad everywhere.  Though there are wider gaps in eight states and more than a third of the US metro areas, there’s little good news in the more granular details.  New York, Florida, and Connecticut are the states with the largest gaps, but Wyoming, specifically the Jackson area spanning parts of that state and Idaho have the single largest metro gap at 132 times the average income of the bottom 99%.  132 times the average.  I don’t even know how to get my mind wrapped around that figure.  Of the 17 metro areas that accelerated inequity in recent years, 7 were in Florida, 1 was in Texas, and the Fayetteville area of Arkansas was another.

If you ever wondered what it might take in annual income to be a one-percenter, well EPI was glad to let us know that it was about $420,000.  That’s the national figure anyway.  In Texas a 1% family has makes over $1.3 million per year while the 99% average $55,000 plus, putting the state in 11th place in inequity.  Arkansas is the 13th most inequitable.  Famous as one of the poorer states in the country, the average income of the 1% in the Wonder State is over $864,000, while the 99% is scuffling at a bit over $38,000.  Louisiana is the 33rd most unequal, below the national average with the 1% making over $800,000 per year and the 99% around $45,000.  Mississippi is 41st, which almost seems good in comparison, with the 1% making around $480,000 and the 99% about $35,000.

You get the picture.  This level of inequality is absurd.  It explains a lot about politics and policy.  In America, we may be calling from the same area codes, but we’re living in totally different worlds now.