Household Income in the U.S. Visualized as 100 Homes
View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.
Inequality in America has become a major talking point in recent years. For many people though, the concept of inequality – the idea that wealth is spread very thinly at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder – is still an abstract concept.
There are over 125 million households in the United States, each with their own unique structure and financial situation, so understanding such a complex issue requires reducing it to proportions we can understand.
American Households as a Neighborhood
In the visualization above, American households are distilled down into 100 homes, then color-coded into $25,000 income increments.
One house is allocated for those making $300,000 and more per year. On the other end of the scale, we can see that 24 of the households earn $25,000 per year or less, and nearly half of the households have an annual income lower than $50,000.
Here is a more granular breakdown of numbers, this time from a slightly different data source (U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 Household Income Survey):
|Income Bracket||Households (Millions)||Share of Total|
|Less than $15,000||14.1||11.2%|
|$15,000 - $24,999||12.1||9.6%|
|$25,000 - $34,999||11.9||9.4%|
|$35,000 - $49,999||16.3||12.9%|
|$50,000 - $74,999||21.5||17.0%|
|$75,000 - $99,999||15.5||12.3%|
|$100,000 - $149,999||17.8||14.1%|
|$150,000 - $199,999||8.3||6.6%|
|$200,000 and up||8.8||7.0%|
Households between $35,000 and $100,000 are generally considered middle class. That said, the geographical location of where a household is located also makes a big difference.
The Power of Place
Not surprisingly, cost of living strongly influences your household’s place on the income spectrum.
In El Paso, Texas, a $50,000 income places a household of four people in the middle class. However, in a more expensive metro area, like San Diego, that same income lands your household in a lower income tier. Here’s a closer look at the cost of typical expenses in the two metros:
|Expense||El Paso, TX||San Diego, CA||Cost difference|
|Home price||$239,285.67||$755,273.67||⬆︎ 216%|
|Apartment rent||$945.92||$1,961.55||⬆︎ 107%|
|Energy cost||$133.53||$213.96||⬆︎ 60%|
|Dentist visit||$89.08||$104.25||⬆︎ 17%|
The median household income in the U.S. continues setting new monthly records, and we’ve just seen this decade’s largest year-over-year increase in individual wages.
One side effect of this economic growth is that households in the top wage bracket – the well-appointed yellow square in our visualization – have a tendency to reap outsized rewards. So, for now, as America’s economy trends upward, so does its Gini Coefficient.
Basic Income Experiments Around the World
Amid the pandemic, the idea of Universal Basic Income has been gaining steam with policymakers. Where has it been tried, and has it worked?
Basic Income Experiments Around the World
What if everyone received monthly payments to make life easier and encourage greater economic activity? That’s the exact premise behind Universal Basic Income (UBI).
The idea of UBI as a means to both combat poverty and improve economic prospects has been around for decades. With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on economies worldwide, momentum behind the idea has seen a resurgence among certain groups.
Of course, the money to fund basic income programs has to come from somewhere. UBI relies heavily on government budgets or direct funding to cover the regular payments.
As policymakers examine this trade-off between government spending and the potential benefits, there is a growing pool of data to draw inferences from. In fact, basic income has been piloted and experimented on all around the world—but with a mixed bag of results.
What Makes Basic Income Universal?
UBI operates by giving people the means to meet basic necessities with a regular stipend. In theory, this leaves them free to spend their money and resources on economic goods, or searching for better employment options.
Before examining the programs, it’s important to make a distinction between basic income and universal basic income.
With these parameters in mind, and thanks to data from the Stanford Basic Income Lab, we’ve mapped 48 basic income programs that demonstrate multiple features of UBI and are regularly cited in basic income policy.
Some mapped programs are past experiments used to evaluate basic income. Others are ongoing or new pilots, including recently launched programs in Germany and Spain.
Recently, Canada joined the list as countries considering UBI as a top policy priority in a post-COVID world. But as past experiments show, ideas around basic income can be implemented in many different ways.
Basic Income Programs Took Many Forms
Basic income pilots have seen many iterations across the globe. Many paid out in U.S. dollars, while others chose to stick with local currencies (marked by an asterisk for estimated USD value).
|Program||Location||Recipients||Payment Frequency||Amount ($US/yr)||Dates|
|Abundant Birth Project||San Francisco, U.S.||100||Monthly||$12,000-$18,000||TBD|
|Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend||Alaska, U.S.||667,047||Annually||$1,000-$2,000||1982-Present|
|Baby's First Years||New York, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Baby's First Years||New Orleans, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Baby's First Years||Omaha, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Baby's First Years||Twin Cities, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Basic Income for Farmers||Gyeonggi Province, South Korea||430,000||Annually||$509*||TBD|
|Basic Income Grant (BIG) Pilot||Omitara, Namibia||930||Monthly||$163*||2008-2009|
|Basic Income Project||Not Disclosed||3,000||Monthly||$600-$12,000||2019-Present|
|Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino Revenue Fund||Jackson County and area, NC, U.S.||15,414||Biannually||$7,000-$12,000||1996-Present|
|Eight Pilot Project||Busibi, Uganda||150||Monthly||$110-$219*||2017-2019|
|Evaluation of the Citizens' Basic Income Program||Maricá, Brazil||42,000||Monthly||$360*||2019-Present|
|Finland Basic Income Experiment||Finland||2,000||Monthly||$7,793*||2017-2018|
|Gary Income Maintenance Experiments||Gary, U.S.||1,782||Monthly||$3,300-$4,300||1971-1974|
|Give Directly||Western Kenya||20,847||Monthly or Lump Sum||$274||2017-2030|
|Give Directly||Saiya County, Kenya||10,500||Lump Sum||$333||2014-2017|
|Give Directly||Rarieda District, Kenya||503||Monthly or Lump Sum||$405-$1,525||2011-2013|
|Human Development Fund||Mongolia||2,700,000||Monthly||$187||2010-2012|
|Ingreso Mínimo Vital||Spain||850,000||Monthly||$6,535-$14,358*||2020-Present|
|Iran Cash Transfer Programme||Iran||75,000,000||Monthly||$48||2010-Present|
|Madhya Pradesh Unconditional Cash Transfers Project||Madhya Pradesh, India||5,547||Monthly||$26-$77*||2011-2012|
|Magnolia Mother's Trust||Jackson, MS, U.S.||80||Monthly||$12,000||2019-Present|
|Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment||Winnipeg, Canada||1,677||Monthly||$3,842-$5,864*||1975-1978|
|Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment||Dauphin, Canada||586||Monthly||$3,842-$5,864*||1975-1978|
|My Basic Income||Germany||120||Monthly||$17,160*||2020-2023|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Jersey City, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Paterson, NJ, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Passaic, NJ, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Trenton, NJ, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Scranton, PA, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|Ontario Basic Income Pilot||Hamilton and area, Canada||2,748||Monthly||$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)||2017-2018|
|Ontario Basic Income Pilot||Thunder Bay and area, Canada||1,908||Monthly||$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)||2017-2018|
|Ontario Basic Income Pilot||Lindsay, Canada||1,844||Monthly||$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)||2017-2018|
|Preserving Our Diversity||Santa Monica, U.S.||250||Monthly||$7,836-$8,964||2017-Present|
|Quatinga Velho||Quatinga, Mogi das Cruces, Brazil||67||Monthly||$197*||2008-2014|
|Rural Income Maintenance Experiment||Duplin County, NC, U.S.||810||Monthly||Varied (NIT)||1970-1972|
|Rural Income Maintenance Experiment||Iowa, U.S.||810||Monthly||Varied (NIT)||1970-1972|
|Scheme $6,000||Hong Kong, China||4,000,000||Annually||$771*||2011-2012|
|Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment||Seattle, U.S.||2,042||Monthly||$3,800-$5,600||1971-1982|
|Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment||Denver, U.S.||2,758||Monthly||$3,800-$5,600||1971-1982|
|Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration||Stockton, U.S.||125||Monthly||$6,000||2019-Present|
|Transition-Age Youth Basic Income Pilot Program||Santa Clara, CA, U.S.||72||Monthly||$12,000||2020-2021|
|Wealth Partaking Scheme||Macau, China||700,600||Annually||$750-$1,150||2008-Present|
|Youth Basic Income Program||Gyeonggi Province, South Korea||125,000||Quarterly||$848*||2018-Present|
|Citizen's Basic Income Pilot||Scotland||TBD||Monthly||TBD||TBD|
|People's Prosperity Guaranteed Income Demonstration Pilot||St. Paul, U.S.||150||Monthly||$6,000||2020-2022|
Many of the programs meet the classical requirements of UBI. Of the 48 basic income programs tallied above, 75% paid out monthly, and 60% were paid out to individuals.
However, for various reasons, not all of these programs follow UBI requirements. For example, 38% of the basic income programs were paid out to households instead of individuals, and many programs have paid out in lump sums or over varying time frames.
Interestingly, the need for better understanding of basic income has resulted in many divergences between programs. Some programs were only targeted at specific groups like South Korea’s Basic Income for Farmers program, while others like the Baby’s First Years program in the U.S. have been experimenting with different dollar amounts in order to evaluate efficiency.
Other experiments based payments made off of the total income of recipients. For example, in the U.S., the Rural Income and New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiments paid out using a negative income tax (return) on earnings, while recipients of Canada’s Ontario Basic Income Pilot received fixed amounts minus 50% of their earned income.
Varying Programs with Varied Results
So is basic income the real deal or a pipe dream? The results are still unclear.
Some, like the initial pilots for Uganda’s Eight program, were found to result in significant multipliers on economic activity and well-being. Other programs, however, returned mixed results that made further experimentation difficult. Finland’s highly-touted pilot program decreased stress levels of recipients across the board, but didn’t positively impact work activity.
The biggest difficulty has been in keeping programs going and securing funding. Ontario’s three-year projects were prematurely cancelled in 2018 before they could be completed and assessed, and the next stages of Finland’s program are in limbo.
Likewise in the U.S., start-up incubator Y Combinator has been planning a $60M basic income study program, but can’t proceed until funding is secured.
A Post-COVID Future for UBI?
In light of COVID-19, basic income has once again taken center stage.
Many countries have already implemented payment schemes or boosted unemployment benefits in reaction to the pandemic. Others like Spain have used that momentum to launch fully-fledged basic income pilots.
It’s still too early to tell if UBI will live up to expectations or if the idea will fizzle out, but as new experiments and policy programs take shape, a growing amount of data will become available for policymakers to evaluate.
The Decline of Upward Mobility in One Chart
Each generation of Americans has historically earned more than their parents, but declining upward mobility is putting this growth at risk.
The Decline Of Upward Mobility In One Chart
For decades, a majority of Americans have been able to climb the economic ladder by earning higher incomes than their parents. These improving conditions are known as upward mobility, and form an important part of the American Dream.
However, each consecutive generation is finding it harder to make this ascent. In this graphic, we illustrate the decline in upward mobility over five decades using data from Opportunity Insights.
Understanding The Chart
This graphic plots the probability that a 30-year-old American has to outearn their parents (vertical axis) depending on their parent’s income percentile (horizontal axis). The 1st percentile represents America’s lowest earners, while the 99th percentile the richest.
As we move from left to right on the chart, the portion of people who outearn their parents takes a steep decline. This suggests that people born into upper class families are less likely to outearn their parents, regardless of generation.
The key takeaway, though, is that the starting point of this downward trend has shifted to the left. In other words, fewer people in the lower- and middle-classes are climbing the economic ladder.
|Decade Born||Chance of Outearning Parents (Bottom Percentile)||Chance of Outearning Parents (50th Percentile)||Chance of Outearning Parents (Top Income Percentile)|
Declines can be seen across the board, but those growing up in the middle-class (50th percentile) have taken the largest hit. Within this bracket, individuals born in 1980 have only a 45% chance of outearning their parents at age 30, compared to 93% for those born in 1940.
Stagnating Wage Growth a Culprit
One factor behind America’s deteriorating upward mobility is the sluggish pace at which wages have grown. For example, the average hourly wage in 1964, when converted to 2018 dollars, is $20.27. Compare this to $22.65, the average hourly wage in 2018. That represents a mere 11.7% increase over a span of 54 years.
However, this may not be as bad as it sounds. While the prices of some goods and services have risen over time, others have actually become more affordable. Since January 1998, for example, the prices of electronic goods such as TVs and cellphones have actually decreased. In this way, individuals today are more prosperous than previous generations.
This benefit is likely outweighed by relative increases in other services, though. Whereas inflation since January 1998 totaled 58.8%, the costs of health and education services increased by more than 160% over the same time frame.
While wages have been stagnant as a whole, it doesn’t paint the full picture. Another factor to consider is America’s changing income distribution.
|Income Class||1970 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income||2018 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income|
Source: Pew Research Center
Like the data on upward mobility, the middle class takes the largest hit here, with its share of U.S. aggregate income falling by 19 percentage points. Over the same time frame, the upper class was able to increase its share of total income by 20 percentage points.
Is It All Bad News?
Americans are less likely to earn more than their parents, but this doesn’t mean that upward mobility has completely disappeared—it’s just becoming less accessible. Below, we illustrate the changes in size for different income classes from 1967 to 2016.
The upper middle class has grown significantly, from 6% of the population in 1967 to 33% in 2016. At the same time, the middle class shrank from 47% to 36% and the lower middle class shrank from 31% to 16%.
The data suggests that some middle class Americans are still managing to pull themselves up into the next income bracket—it’s just not an effect that was as broad-based as it’s been in the past.
Does The American Dream Still Exist?
The American Dream is the belief that upward mobility is attainable for everyone through their own actions. This implies that growth will be continuous and widespread, two factors that have seemingly deteriorated in recent decades.
Researchers believe there are numerous complex reasons behind America’s stagnating wages. A decline in union membership, for example, could be eroding employees’ collective bargaining power. Other factors such as technological change may also apply downwards pressure on the wages of less educated workers.
Income inequality, on the other hand, is clearly shown by the data. We can also refer to the Gini-coefficient, a statistical measure of economic inequality. It ranges between 0 and 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality (one person holds all the income). The U.S. currently has a Gini-coefficient of 0.434, the highest of any G7 country.
Long story short, the American Dream is still alive—it’s just becoming harder to come by.
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