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Income Inequality at Historically High Levels, Census Data Show

September 12, 2012 at 5:15 PM

The shares of the nation’s income going to each of the bottom three fifths of households were the lowest on record last year, in data that go back to 1967, today’s Census Bureau report shows.  The share of income going to the top fifth was the highest on record (see graph).

The bottom 20 percent of households received just 3.2 percent of all household income in 2011, and the middle fifth of households received only 14.3 percent of the income.  But the top 20 percent of households got 51.1 percent of the income in the nation, and the top 5 percent of households garnered 22.3 percent.


In short, as more of the gains of economic growth have accumulated at the top, the shares of the national income going to the bottom and middle have fallen.

Although the economy grew last year, middle-income households continued to lose ground, and the losses were particularly large for working-age households.   It’s a stark reminder that when it comes to the living standards of middle- and low-income families, overall economic growth is necessary but not sufficient.

For these families to get ahead, the economy must not only expand but that expansion must reach more households, particularly those for whom growth has been largely a spectator sport.