income-distribution-share

Visualizing the Shifting Income Distribution of American Jobs

When we talk about the money that the “average” American worker makes, we are usually referencing a “median” or “mean” income statistic.

While this number can be useful in many different contexts, it can also be extremely limiting. The reality is that there’s a very wide range of incomes out there, even within a particular type of industry. Some people can barely make ends meet, and others make millions of dollars more.

To view income distribution through a wider lens, data visualization expert Nathan Yau has created an interactive chart that breaks down millions of data points into just 50 dots per industry. The dots are visualized on a scale from $0 to $200k+ and binned in $5,000 increments. Data is also adjusted for inflation.

Income Distribution by Industry in 1960

Here’s a snapshot showing what income distribution looked like 57 years ago for a variety of broad industries:

Income Distribution in 1960

Generally speaking, many of the ranges are on the lower side of things and tend to have data points clustered around the “middle” of each distribution.

Income Distribution by Industry in 2014

Fast forward to 2014, and nearly every income bracket has expanded out.

Income Distribution in 2014
In many of these professions, workers are now making more money – this is good news for the economy.

The downside? There are two problems: (1) Higher inequality, and (2) Many of the new jobs created recently are on the lower end of the income spectrum.

As you can see, top earning lawyers, engineers, or managers are able to climb up towards the tops of their brackets. A lucky few are able to make $200k+, which is far more than the vast majority of the workforce.

However, workers in other industries like food preparation or healthcare support are not so lucky. Unfortunately, in these sectors, making a middle-class income is very difficult – and many people are bringing in less than $25k per year. Yet, it is in these types of sectors that we’ve seen the majority of “new jobs” appear over recent years.

It makes it difficult for society to solve the income inequality problem when this is the case.

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