7 possibilities for addressing income inequality in the U.S.

Published on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog

As inequality increases, more questions than answers?

Here are the facts:

Income inequality in the US continues to worsen. While earners at the very top claim greater shares of the country’s income distribution, shares among the rest are shrinking.

A recent analysis by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston suggests incomes for the bottom 90% only grew by $59 between 1966 and 2011 (inflation adjusted). Over the same period, average incomes for the top 10% rose by $116,071. The top 1% saw their share grow by $628,817. And the top 1% of the 1%? They saw their share grow by $18,362,740.

Here’s a visual courtesy of Johnston: If a $59 boost is equivalent to an inch, then the incomes of the top 10% grew by 168 FEET! The top 1% grew by 884 feet, and the cream of the crop – the top 1% of the 1% – saw an increase of 4.9 miles (that’s 310,464 feet). I attempted to plot these distances on the graph below. However, it’s largely unreadable because the cream of the crop dwarfs even the 1% as a whole. (If you look close though, you can sort of see the other distributions.)

1966-2011: Income growth, bottom 90%, top 10%, top 1%, top 1% of the 1%


Bottom 90%Top 10%Top 1%Top 1% of the 1%3000002000001000000
David Cay Johnston calculates income growth in feet:
Bottom 90% – $59 = 1 inch
Top 10% – $168,071 = 163 feet
Top 1% – $628,817 = 884 feet
Top 1% of the 1% – $18,362,740 = 4.9 miles (310,464 feet)