The Covid-19 pandemic dealt a crippling blow to the nation. It knocked out a third of U.S. gross domestic product and sent the jobless rate into double digits last year, and has killed nearly 600,000 Americans, according to the latest estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Before the virus began infecting the world, the U.S. economy was, by most macroeconomic measures, healthy. The national unemployment rate had plunged to its lowest since the late 1960s. At the same time, average private-sector nominal hourly earnings (a common measure of a worker’s income growth) were finally approaching a level unseen since before the Great Recession that began in late 2007.
But macroeconomic indicators don’t provide a complete picture. Viewing a country exclusively through that lens misses the basic fact that economics is as much a local story as a national one. For example, not all U.S. states enjoy the benefits of our modern capitalist democracy equally. (Here are the richest and poorest states.)
To identify the states where income inequality got worse between 2010 and 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available), 24/7 Wall St. looked at the change in the Gini index — a statistical measure developed by early 20th-century economist Corrado Gini, representing income or wealth inequality within a given group. A Gini coefficient of 0 means that everyone has an equal income, while a coefficient of 1 indicates maximum inequality (i.e., one person or group controls all the wealth). High income to low income ratios were calculated based on census income quintiles for the top 20% of earners and the bottom 20% of earners. All data comes from the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey one-year estimates for 2019.
Amid the long recovery from the worst economic crisis in more than 80 years, income inequality got worse and worse. Despite a record pre-pandemic streak of U.S. economic expansion that created jobs, resuscitated the housing market, and sent the stock market to the stratosphere, by 2019, only the top 30% of households had recovered the wealth they lost in the Great Recession, according to the Federal Reserve.
The middle and lower classes are worse off than they had been a decade earlier, while the wealthiest Americans own an ever-larger share of the nation’s prosperity. While the situation is nationwide, it’s the worst in these states where the middle class is being left behind.
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