In 35 of 50 States, Top 5% Gained in Share of All Income from 2014 to 2015
I love the American Community Survey. Conducted every year by the U.S. Census Bureau and released to the public at the website factfinder.census.gov, the American Community Survey collects an impressive variety of information about people living in all the states, counties, towns and legislative districts of the United States of America. Every September, the previous year’s data is released; two days ago we had our national ACS holiday for 2016. After a bit of time to master the only mildly tricky search and download techniques for factfinder.census.gov, you can find out a lot about what’s going on in this country.
One of the most interesting variables in the American Community Survey has to do with income. In every state, the U.S. Census Bureau takes all reports of income and puts them in order from highest income to lowest income. Then the Census Bureau takes the top 5% of income earners and figures out what share of all income they obtained. In a hypothetical world of perfect income equality, the top 5% of income earners would earn 5% of income. In the actual fifty states of the U.S. in 2015 (plus two territories), the top 5% earned anywhere from 4 to nearly 6 times as much as they would have by chance alone:
|State||Share of all Income Earned by Top 5%|
|District of Columbia||26.19|
There’s income inequality in the United States, alright. But is getting better or getting worse? And where is it getting better or worse? Let’s take a look:
Four of the five states with the greatest income inequality in 2014 got even more unequal in 2015. And of all 50 states, only 15 saw a lessening in the share of income going to top recipients. Some news about income from the new Census data this week has been reassuring. The news about income inequality is not so reassuring.