In a capitalist economy, like that of the United States, some level of income inequality is to be expected. In recent years, however, the increasing consolidation of wealth in the hands of a few has gone beyond what many Americans deem to be justified or morally acceptable.
According to a recent report published by the New York-based financial firm JPMorgan Chase, the wealthiest 10% of American households control nearly 75% of household net worth. While no single factor is causing the growth in income inequality, trends like stagnant middle class wages and skyrocketing executive compensation certainly contribute. There are currently over a dozen major publicly traded companies where CEOs make 1,000 more than their typical employee.
While statistics like these help illustrate the problems associated with income inequality, for many Americans the phenomenon is largely conceptual as housing market prices and other forces tend to divide cities and neighborhoods by socioeconomic status. There are parts of the country, however, where the rich and poor live side by side. In these places, income inequality is a palpable and defining feature of daily life.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Gini coefficient — a standard measure for the distribution of wealth in an area — for over 3,000 U.S. counties and county equivalents to identify the 25 counties with the widest income gaps.
The counties and county equivalents on this list are concentrated in the South — but also dot the Northeast and western United States. They include both urban and rural counties, and more often than not, income inequality is driven largely by a concentration of poor residents (all but two counties on this list have a higher poverty than the 14.6% national poverty rate) rather than a concentration of extremely wealthy households. Still, many of these same counties fall within the limits of the 25 richest cities in America.
25. Winston County, Mississippi
> Population: 18,242
> Median household income: $33,313
> Households earning less than $10,000: 12.2%
> Households earning $200,000 or more: 3.0%
Winston County is located in north central Mississippi. The county seat is Louisville. An estimated 3.0% of households in the county earn $200,000 or more per year, a higher share than the 2.4% share of Mississippi households. The area’s high earning households are in close proximity to those facing serious financial hardship. More than one in every four Winston County residents live below the poverty line, and 23.9% of the population rely on SNAP benefits to afford groceries.
24. Radford, Virginia
> Population: 17,659
> Median household income: $36,082
> Households earning less than $10,000: 17.8%
> Households earning $200,000 or more: 2.0%
The income gap in Radford, an independent city in southern Virginia, is due in large part to the concentration of extremely poor households. Half of all households in Radford earn more than $36,000 a year, a far lower median income than the median nationwide of $57,652. Additionally, nearly 18% of Radford households earn less than $10,000 a year, more than double the 6.7% share of households nationwide with similarly low incomes.
College towns tend to have high income inequality on paper as many off-campus college students have little to no income, and Radford is home to Radford University, a major public university.
23. Glacier County, Montana
> Population: 13,675
> Median household income: $29,201
> Households earning less than $10,000: 17.3%
> Households earning $200,000 or more: 2.2%
Glacier County, located in northwestern Montana along the Canadian border, has a poverty rate of 33.1%, more than double the national poverty rate of 14.6%. Areas where a similarly large share of the population struggles financially often have few if any wealthy residents. In Glacier County, however, 2.2% of households earn at least $200,000 a year. Based on measures of economic mobility, Glacier also ranks among the counties where the American dream is dead.
Native American Indian reservations typically have far worse than typical economic conditions, and Glacier County encompasses much of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
22. Fulton County, Georgia
> Population: 1.0 million
> Median household income: $61,336
> Households earning less than $10,000: 7.7%
> Households earning $200,000 or more: 11.8%
Atlanta is the county seat of Fulton, the most populous county in Georgia. Like some other densely populated urban counties, income inequality is a conspicuous problem in Fulton County. Of all households in the area, 7.7% earn less than $10,000 a year, a larger share than the 6.7% of households nationwide. Meanwhile, 11.8% of households in the county earn at least $200,000 a year, nearly double the 6.3% share of households nationwide.
21. Karnes County, Texas
> Population: 15,516
> Median household income: $53,051
> Households earning less than $10,000: 9.4%
> Households earning $200,000 or more: 6.4%
Karnes is a small Texas County of about 15,500 people southeast of San Antonio. Most area households earn at least $53,000 a year, slightly below the national median income of $57,652. However, Karnes County is home to a far larger than typical share of residents facing serious financial hardship. Nearly one in every 10 households in Karnes County earns less than $10,000 a year compared to 6.7% of households nationwide.