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Inequality

Animation: The Collapse of the Middle Class in 20 Major U.S. Cities

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When future historians look back at the beginning of the 21st century, they’ll note that we grappled with many big issues.

They’ll write about the battle between nationalism and globalism, soaring global debt, a dysfunctional healthcare system, societal concerns around automation and AI, and pushback on immigration. They will also note the growing number of populist leaders in Western democracies, ranging from Marine Le Pen to Donald Trump.

However, these historians will not view these ideas and events in isolation. Instead, they will link them all, at least partially, to an overarching trend that is intimately connected to today’s biggest problems: the “hollowing out” of the middle class.

Visualizing the Collapse of the Middle Class

The fact is many people have less money in their pockets – and understandably, this has motivated people to take action against the status quo.

And while the collapse of the middle class and income inequality are issues that receive a fair share of discussion, we thought that this particular animation from Metrocosm helped to put things in perspective.

The following animation shows the change in income distribution in 20 major U.S. cities between 1970 and 2015:

Animation: The Collapse of the Middle Class in 20 Major U.S. Cities

The differences between 1970 and 2015 are intense. At first, each distribution is more bell-shaped, with the majority of people in a middle income bracket – and by 2015, those people are “pushed” out towards the extremes as they either get richer or poorer.

A Broader Look at Income Inequality

This phenomenon is not limited to major cities, either.

Here’s another look at the change in income distribution using smaller brackets and the whole U.S. adult population:

Income distribution

Courtesy of: FT (h/t Metrocosm)

It’s a multi-faceted challenge, because while a significant portion of middle class households are being shifted into lower income territory, there are also many households that are doing the opposite. According to Pew Research, the percentage of households in the upper income bracket has grown from 14% to 21% between 1971 and 2015.

The end result? With people being pushed to both ends of the spectrum, the middle class has decreased considerably in size. In 1971, the middle class made up 61% of the adult population, and by 2014 it accounted for less than 50%.

As this “core” of society shrinks, it aggravates the aforementioned problems. People and governments borrow more money to make up for a lack of middle class wealth, while backlashes against globalism, free trade, and open borders are fueled. The populists who can “fix” the broken system are elected, and so on.

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Inequality

The Wealthiest and Poorest County in Every State

This infographic uses the measure of median household income to contrast the wealthiest and poorest counties in every U.S. state.

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The Wealthiest and Poorest County in Every U.S. State

View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

The average U.S. state is made up of 62 counties.

With so many counties spread throughout each state in the nation, it’s not surprising that we can find counties that exemplify almost any part of the American experience.

In this case, we’re comparing county-level data to look at the differences in economic opportunity within each state. More specifically, we are looking at the range of median household income, which is one proxy for the difference in economic status between counties.

Disparity by State

Today’s infographic comes to us from TitleMax, and it looks at the wealthiest and poorest counties in each individual U.S. state based on the measure of median household income.

Here are the five states with the biggest disparity between rich and poor counties:

1. Virginia: $102,800
Loudoun is about an hour’s drive to D.C., and it also happens to be the richest county in the U.S. in terms of median income. Further west in the state, bordering Kentucky and West Virginia, lies Buchanan County, which has a median household income of just $31,800.

 County NameMedian Income
Differential$102,800
RichestLoudoun$134,600
PoorestBuchanan$31,800

2. New Mexico: $86,500
In Los Alamos, known as the birthplace of the atomic bomb, median household income has exploded to $114,700 – meanwhile, along the Mexico border lies Luna, the poorest county in the state.

 County NameMedian Income
Differential$86,500
RichestLos Alamos$114,700
PoorestLuna$28,200

3. Colorado: $85,200
Just like the Colorado has a difference in elevation, it also holds a large difference in median income. Folks in Douglas County, which lies between Denver and Colorado Springs, take home $112,400 in income on average, while folks in Costilla bring in about $27,200 per year.

 County NameMedian Income
Differential$85,200
RichestDouglas$112,400
PoorestCostilla$27,200

4. Maryland: $80,900
Howard County, which lies between Baltimore and Washington D.C., has the highest median household income in the state. Meanwhile, it’s Somerset County at the south of the Delmarva Peninsula that has the lowest.

 County NameMedian Income
Differential$80,900
RichestHoward$119,400
PoorestSomerset$38,500

5. Tennessee: $79,700
Just to the south of the Music City sits Williamson County – a wealthy part of the state with $107,900 in median income. Hancock County is the poorest, and it’s tucked away in the northeast corner of the state.

 County NameMedian Income
Differential$79,700
RichestWilliamson$107,900
PoorestHancock$28,200

A Note on Cost of Living

While median household income can help point to disparities between counties, it is just one indicator.

It’s worth noting that the cost of living can often be cheaper in counties with lower median incomes, and this can partially offset the difference in some instances. For example, while Trinity County is the poorest county in California by median income, it’s also far away from San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Sacramento, and has a much cheaper cost of living and a different way of life.

In some ways it is comparing apples to oranges. Trinity County is completely rural, holds zero incorporated cities, and holds just 3,600 people in its largest community (Weaverville) – a far cry from the urban sprawl of L.A. or the booming Bay Area.

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Economy

Visualizing the Extreme Concentration of Global Wealth

A data-driven snapshot of global wealth distribution. The average person around the world is doing better, but big-picture inequality is still staggering.

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In recent decades, extreme world poverty has declined significantly and many millions of people have joined the swelling ranks of the middle class – particularly in China.

While these economic shifts are positive, it’s the other end of the global wealth spectrum that attracts the most attention. A high degree of wealth creation is amassed by those at the top of the economic pyramid.

The Top-Heavy Wealth Spectrum

Today, slightly less than 1% of the world’s adult population occupies the $1M+ wealth range. Despite their small numbers, this elite group collectively controls 46% of the world’s wealth, valued at approximately $129 trillion.

Concentration of Global Wealth

On the flip side of the equation, 70% of world’s population fall into the sub-$10K wealth band. This majority of people around the world collectively control a mere 2.7% of the world’s wealth.

Even as “the rich get richer”, there is good news for the majority. The percentage of people in that lowest wealth band has been shrinking over the years.

Moneyed Metropolises

Not only is money concentrated among a small portion of the population, those people tend to gravitate towards global cities such as London, Hong Kong, and New York.

In fact, 70% of ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) – persons with investable assets of $30 million or more – reside in just ten cities around the world.

global wealth concentration map

According to Credit Suisse, emerging markets now account for 22% of growth in the UHNWIs category – up from just 6% growth in 2000 – with China alone adding over 16,000 UHNWIs to the mix. Many members of this elite class may generate their wealth in emerging economies around the world, but as we can see from the map above, the world’s richest people end up very concentrated, geographically speaking.

Global Wealth, by Continent

As the visualization below demonstrates, wealth accumulates in Europe and North America. This trend is so pronounced that it only becomes evident once the scale is adjusted to see the detail in the upper percentiles.

wealth distribution by continent

One thing is for certain – the world is changing quickly, and just as this graph would have looked very different 20 years ago, global wealth will almost certainly look different in 20 years time.

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