In 24 states, the top 1 percent of earners captured at least half of all income growth between 2009 and 2013, according to the EPI report, issued last week. In 15 of those states, the top 1 percent captured all income growth. In another 10 states, top 1 percent incomes grew in the double digits, while bottom 99 percent incomes fell. For the United States overall, the top 1 percent captured 85 percent of total income growth between 2009 and 2013. In 2013 the top 1 percent of families nationally made more than 25 times as much as everyone else.
EPI representatives contend that growing income inequality is not just a story of those in the financial sector in the greater New York City area reaping outsized rewards from speculation in financial markets. While New York and Connecticut are the most unequal states (as measured by the ratio of top 1 percent to bottom 99 percent income in 2013), nine states, 54 metro areas and 165 counties have gaps wider than the national gap. The unequal income growth since the late 1970s has pushed the top 1 percent’s share of all income above 24 percent (the 1928 national peak share) in five states, 22 metro areas and 75 counties.
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, the report explains. From 1928 to 1979, the share of income goign to the top 1 percent declined in every state except Alaska (where the top 1 percent had a relatively low share of income). These were the years of a rising minimum wage, typically low unemployment after the 1930s, widespread collective bargaining in private industries and a cultural and political environment in which it was outrageous for executives to receive outsized bonuses while laying off workers. EPI calls for policies that would return the economy to full employment, return bargaining power to workers and reinstate the cultural taboo against gilding the corporate suiteholders.
What does income inequality look like in your area? Find county-by-county information with the Economic Policy Institute's interactive data feature.