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Inequality

Visualizing the Shifting Income Distribution of American Jobs

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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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Demographics

The Global Inequality Gap, and How It’s Changed Over 200 Years

This visualization shows the global inequality gap — a difference in the standards of living around the world, as well as how it’s changed over 200 years.

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How the Global Inequality Gap Has Changed In 200 Years

What makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise? The UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) measures this by one’s life expectancy, average income, and years of education.

However, the value of each metric varies greatly depending on where you live. Today’s data visualization from Max Roser at Our World in Data summarizes five basic dimensions of development across countries—and how our average standards of living have evolved since 1800.

Health: Mortality Rates and Life Expectancy

Child mortality rates and life expectancy at birth are telltale signs of a country’s overall standard of living, as they indicate a population’s ability to access healthcare services.

Iceland stood at the top of these ranks in 2017, with only a 0.21% mortality rate for children under five years old. On the other end of the spectrum, Somalia had the highest child mortality rate of 12.7%—over three times the current global average.

While there’s a stark contrast between the best and worst performing countries, it’s clear that even Somalia has made significant strides since 1800. At that time, the global average child mortality rate was a whopping 43%.

Lower child mortality is also tied to higher life expectancy. In 1800, the average life expectancy was that of today’s millennial—only 29 years old:

Life Expectancy in 1800 by Continent

Today, the global average has shot up to 72.2 years, with areas like Japan exceeding this benchmark by more than a decade.

Education: Mean and Expected Years of Schooling

Education levels are measured in two distinct ways:

  • Mean years: the average number of years a person aged 25+ receives in their lifetime
  • Expected years: the total years a 2-year old child is likely to spend in school

In the 1800s, the mean and expected years of education were both less than a year—only 78 days to be precise. Low attendance rates occurred because children were expected to work during harvests, or contracted long-term illnesses that kept them at home.

Since then, education levels have drastically improved:

 Mean Years of SchoolingExpected Years of schooling 
Global Average8.4 years12.7 years
HighestGermany 🇩🇪: 14.1 yearsAustralia 🇦🇺: 22.9 years
LowestBurkina Faso 🇧🇫: 1.5 yearsSouth Sudan 🇸🇸: 4.9 years

Research shows that investing in education can greatly narrow the inequality gap. Just one additional year of school can:

  • Raise a person’s income by up to 10%
  • Raise average annual GDP growth by 0.37%
  • Reduce the probability of motherhood by 7.3%
  • Reduce the likelihood of child marriage by >5 percentage points
  • Source

    Education has a strong correlation with individual wealth, which cascades into national wealth. Not surprisingly, average income has ballooned significantly in two centuries as well.

    Wealth: Average GDP Per Capita

    Global inequality levels are the most stark when it comes to GDP per capita. While the U.S. stands at $54,225 per person in 2017, resource-rich Qatar brings in more than double this amount—an immense $116,936 per person.

    The global average GDP per capita is $15,469, but inequality heavily skews the bottom end of these values. In the Central African Republic, GDP per capita is only $661 today—similar to the average income two hundred years ago.

    A Virtuous Cycle

    These measures of development clearly feed into one another. Rising life expectancies are an indication of a society’s growing access to healthcare options. Compounded with more years of education, especially for women, this has had a ripple effect on declining fertility rates, contributing to higher per capita incomes.

    People largely agree on what goes into human well-being: life, health, sustenance, prosperity, peace, freedom, safety, knowledge, leisure, happiness… If they have improved over time, that, I submit, is progress.

    Steven Pinker

    As technology accelerates the pace of change across these indicators, will the global inequality gap narrow more, or expand even wider?

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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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