The New Gilded Age: Inequality State-By-State And Local

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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.

What we can do to fix the problem: The rise of top incomes relative to the bottom 99 percent represents a sharp reversal of the trend that prevailed in the mid-20th century. From 1928 to 1973, the share of income held by the top 1 percent declined in every state for which we have data. This earlier era was characterized by a rising minimum wage, low levels of unemployment after the 1930s, widespread collective bargaining in private industries (manufacturing, transportation, telecommunications, and construction), and a cultural, political, and legal environment that kept a lid on executive compensation in all sectors of the economy. We need policies that return the economy to full employment and keep it there, return bargaining power to U.S. workers, increase political participation by all citizens, and boost public investments in child care, education, housing, and health care. Such policies will help prevent the wealthiest few from appropriating more than their fair share of the nation’s expanding economic pie.

Executive summary

This report, our fourth such analysis,1 focuses on trends in income inequality. It uses the latest available data to examine how the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent in each state have fared over the years 1917–2015 and to provide a snapshot of top incomes in 2015 by county and metropolitan area. (Data for our entire series, from 1917 to 2015, are available at go.epi.org/unequalstates2018data.)

This analysis finds, consistent with our previous analyses, that there has been vast and widespread growth in income inequality in every corner of the country. Overall, the growth in incomes of the bottom 99 percent has improved since our last report, in step with a strengthening economy, but the gap between the top 1 percent and everyone else still grew in the majority of states we examine here.

Key findings

In 2015, the top 1 percent of families in the U.S. earned, on average, 26.3 times as much income as the bottom 99 percent—an increase from 2013, when they earned 25.3 times as much.

  • Eight states plus the District of Columbia had gaps wider than the national gap. In the most unequal—New York, Florida, and Connecticut—the top 1 percent earned average incomes more than 35 times those of the bottom 99 percent.
  • Forty-five of 916 metropolitan areas had gaps wider than the national gap. In the 17 most unequal metropolitan areas, the average income of the top 1 percent was at least 35 times greater than the average income of the bottom 99 percent. Most unequal was the Jackson metropolitan area, which spans Wyoming and Idaho; there the top 1 percent in 2015 earned on average 132.0 times the average income of the bottom 99 percent of families. The next 16 metropolitan areas with the largest top-to-bottom ratios were Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Florida (90.1); Key West, Florida (81.3); Sebastian-Vero Beach, Florida (67.2); Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut (62.2); Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida (55.4); Port St. Lucie, Florida (45.5); Glenwood Springs, Colorado (45.0); Hailey, Idaho (44.9); Gardnerville Ranchos, Nevada (44.3); Summit Park, Utah (43.5); North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida (43.1); New York-Newark-Jersey City, New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania (39.4); Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida (38.8); Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Arkansas-Missouri (37.2); Midland, Texas (35.7); and Steamboat Springs, Colorado (35.3).
  • Of 3,061 counties, 139 had gaps wider than the national gap. The average income of the top 1 percent was at least 35 times greater than the average income of the bottom 99 percent in 50 counties. In Teton County, Wyoming (which is one of two counties in the Jackson metropolitan area), the top 1 percent in 2015 earned on average 142.2 times the average income of the bottom 99 percent of families.

There is a widespread in what it means to be in the top 1 percent by state, metro area, and county.

  • To be in the top 1 percent nationally in 2015, a family needed an income of $421,926. Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia, 107 metro areas, and 317 counties had local top 1 percent income thresholds above that level.
  • For states (including the District of Columbia), the highest thresholds were in Connecticut ($700,800), District of Columbia ($598,155), New Jersey ($588,575), Massachusetts ($582,774), New York ($550,174), and California ($514,694).
  • Thresholds above $1 million could be found in five metro areas (Jackson, Wyoming-Idaho; Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut; Summit Park, Utah; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California; Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Florida) and 17 counties.

Looking at the residence of families with incomes above the 2015 national threshold of $421,926 for entering the top 1 percent, we find:

  • Of all the income received by the national top 1 percent in 2015, half accrued to families in five states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Illinois. These five states accounted for about 40 percent of all income in the U.S. (the sum of all incomes including the bottom 99 percent and top 1 percent).
  • We find the largest concentrations of national top 1 percent income in New York, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, California, New Jersey, Nevada, Wyoming, and Illinois.
  • We find the largest concentrations (relative to each metropolitan area’s share of all income) of national top 1 percent income in the following 10 metropolitan areas: Jackson, Wyoming-Idaho; Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Florida; Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut; Key West, Florida; Summit Park, Utah; Sebastian-Vero Beach, Florida; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California; Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida; Hailey, Idaho; and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California.
  • At the county level, we find the largest concentrations (relative to each county’s share of all income) of national top 1 percent income in Teton County, Wyoming; New York County, New York; Collier County, Florida; Pitkin County, Colorado; Fairfield County, Connecticut; Monroe County, Florida; Westchester County, New York; Palm Beach County, Florida; Marin County, California; San Mateo County, California.

Examining the growth of income over the past century, we find growth was broadly shared from 1945 to 1973 and highly unequal from 1973 to 2007, with the latter pattern persisting in the recovery from the Great Recession since 2009:

  • Faster income growth for the bottom 99 percent of families between 1945 and 1973 meant that the top 1 percent captured just 4.9 percent of all income growth over that period.
  • The pattern in the distribution of income growth reversed itself from 1973 to 2007, with over half (58.7 percent) of all income growth concentrated in the hands of the top 1 percent of families.
  • So far during the recovery from the Great Recession, the top 1 percent of families have captured 41.8 percent of all income growth. The distribution of income growth has improved since our last report, when we found that the top 1 percent had captured 85.1 percent of income growth between 2009 and 2013.
  • From our 2016 report to this one, cumulative income growth during the recovery for the top 1 percent increased from 17.4 percent (looking at changes from 2009 to 2013) to 33.9 percent (2009 to 2015)—almost doubling. Among the bottom 99 percent, cumulative growth increased from 0.7 percent to 10.3 percent—growing to nearly 15 times what it was. The bigger relative improvement in growth for the bottom 99 percent (reflecting a strengthening economy) is why the top 1 percent captured a smaller share of income growth from 2009 to 2015 than from 2009 to 2013. Nevertheless, the average income of the top 1 percent still grew faster than the average income of the bottom 99 percent, thus the top-to-bottom ratio continued to increase.

We find a similar pattern in the distribution of growth by state:

  • In 49 states and the District of Columbia, the top 1 percent captured a larger share of all income growth from 1973 to 2007 than in the earlier period (1945 to 1973).
  • In 25 states, the top 1 percent captured half or more of income growth from 1973 to 2007.
  • So far in the recovery, from 2009 to 2015, the average income of the top 1 percent has grown faster than the average income of the bottom 99 percent in 43 states and the District of Columbia. In nine states, the top 1 percent captured half or more of all income growth: In Connecticut and North Carolina, the top 1 percent captured all the income growth from 2009 to 2015 (while income declined for the bottom 99 percent); the other states are Nevada (81.0 percent), Florida (77.5 percent), Maryland (58.4 percent), Massachusetts (58.4 percent), California (53.1 percent), Missouri (53.1 percent), and New York (51.4 percent).

The top 1 percent has steadily captured a growing share of the benefits of America’s economic growth, with the share of all income going to the top 1 percent moving closer in 2015 to its 1928 peak.

  • Overall in the U.S., the top 1 percent took home 22.03 percent of all income in 2015. That share was just 1.9 percentage points below the 1928 peak of 23.9 percent.
  • Five states had top 1 percent income shares above 23.9 percent in 2015. Those states include New York (31.0 percent), Florida (28.5 percent), Connecticut (27.3 percent), Nevada (24.8 percent), and Wyoming (24.0 percent).
  • Thirty metro areas had shares above 23.9 percent in 2015. Shares were highest in Jackson, Wyoming-Idaho (57.1 percent); Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Florida (47.6 percent); Key West, Florida (45.1 percent); Sebastian-Vero Beach, Florida (40.4 percent); Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut (38.6 percent); and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida (35.9 percent).
  • Seventy-eight counties had shares above 23.9 percent. Shares were highest in Teton County, Wyoming (59.0 percent); New York County, New York (53.3 percent); La Salle County, Texas (48.2 percent); Collier County, Florida (47.6 percent); Monroe County, Florida (45.1 percent); Palm Beach County, Florida (44.0 percent); Pitkin County, Colorado (42.2 percent); San Miguel County, Colorado (41.1 percent); Walton County, Florida (40.9 percent); Indian River County, Florida (40.4 percent); Martin County, Florida (40.3 percent); and Fairfield County, Connecticut (38.6 percent).

What does inequality look like in your state?

Explore inequality by state, county, and metro area in this interactive feature.

  • Bob Beal

    Here are the concluding two paragraphs of the study:

    Reinventing America as a land of widespread opportunity requires economic policy that aims to ensure every child has access to adequate food, shelter, health care, child care, and education—whether that child is the daughter of a janitor or the son of a real estate tycoon. Parents working in any occupation must be able to count on a living-wage job; they must be given a voice—either individually or collectively with others—to participate in regulating the conditions of their work; and they must have opportunities to participate in the democratic institutions that govern the affairs of their communities.

    We hope these data on income inequality will be useful for starting conversations in your community about steps you and your neighbors can take to lift up workers; to increase opportunities for children as well as for people seeking a second chance in life; to increase participation in elections and community governance; and, finally, to reaffirm that an important purpose of work is to provide for our families and build up our communities—and that the abundant fruits of workers’ labors should be spread much more widely than they are now. In short, making America great is about making the economy serve the lives of the many, not the narrow interests of the gilded few.

  • lobdillj

    I am a self taught macroeconomist (after 3 layoffs in a career as an R&D physicist working in underwater sound). Inequality is the intended end state of capitalism. The 0.1% benefit from and maintain this system. We cannot end inequality without first ending the monetary system rules that shape our lives. We must teach the 99% how and why this is the case, or we will never be able to change it.
    Read Killing the Host, by Michael Hudson to begin. Then watch the MMT YouTube videos of Stephanie Kelton and L. Randall Wray. MMT is the way for us. These materials show what is possible–a system that works for the 99%.

  • First, let us seek to put these studies into context if possible. I agree with the comments of Lobdillj and Bob Beal.

    As Lobdillj points out, this is not an aberrant or unexpected outcome of capitalism but one of systemic design. While these studies point out that for the period from 1928-1973, “the share of income held by the top 1 percent declined in every state for which we have data”, this is not true in a global context as the capital accumulation that generally raised the standard of living across the United States for that period of time, extracted that wealth from the commonwealth of the rest of the Earth and her people through economic colonialism. When we talk about this at all in terms of monetary market economics, we call this externalization or use similar terms. The wider we allow our focus to become the sharper the trends of the present system become. The rich get richer, the poor and the planet suffer the consequences. End of story. From time to time and for brief periods within isolated communities, this trend might not be so apparent but it is the fundamental underlying driver of behaviors for global monetary market economics. Competition, greed and self serving behaviors are incentivized across the entirely of humanity, fragmenting human culture into a suicidal, self destructive dance. We get the behaviors we have promoted to a religious status through a culture where Money is God. The cultural collaboration that is the primary characteristic of human civilization has become entirely secondary to the worship of monetary market economics that promotes competition and self interest over community, collaboration and harmonious relationship with the natural world upon which we fundamentally depend for our survival.

    The sooner we get this, not through any narrow self interested or nationalistic perspective, the more quickly we can began to make the real systemic changes that will incentivize healthy sustainable human behaviors. There is no fix for the monetary market system. The cultural values it embodies are self destructive. We are living through the consequences on a daily basis. The growing number of protests, activism, conflicts and wars are merely to be expected outcomes of the incentivized human behaviors. Capitalism and monetary market economics more generally, are a collective cultural insanity that has infected humanity. Unless we can effect a cure, most of humanity will surely die and take much of life on Earth with us as we go. The depth of the problem facing humanity cannot be overstated. No patchwork fixes will ultimately cure the disease that is symbolized so completely by Money. Sharing Money is, in the final analysis, like the pox infected blankets European colonists shared with the indigenous populations of the Americas.

    Sorry for the rant, but I get really frustrated with how many people still don’t understand these simple basic truths. Even if we could enact UBI for every American today, we would only accelerate our path towards self destruction. Am I saying we shouldn’t try UBI, of course not. Humanity is deeply addicted to money right now. It is a cultural addiction but the psychological characteristics are indistinguishable from the strongest narcotic addictions. Instead, we should instantly implement a universal and global UBI that would alleviate the most troubling characteristics of monetary economics by ensuring access for everyone to all the basic necessities of life that our modern technologically sophisticated culture is highly capable of providing. Then we should began a global crash program to treat the nearly universal addiction to money and to eliminate its use altogether.

    Can you imagine collaboration and community without the twisted perversions of monetary motivations? Probably not, but I often dream that such a world might be possible before it is too late. Never forget, Money is a synthetic creation of the human cultural imagination. It does not exist in the ‘real’ natural world. Once we devastate the capacity of the Earth to sustain life, we cannot eat, drink or breathe Money.