Ken Lund, Flickr
Wealth and income inequality are growing areas of concern. A report from Oxfam found that 82% of all wealth created throughout the world in 2017 went to the top 1%. 8 individuals literally own as much money as 3.8 billion people. It’s hard to grasp what these numbers really mean, so let’s reframe the issue at the local level. How bad is income inequality where you live?
We previously analyzed income inequality for all 50 states. This new map represents a deeper analysis looking at all 916 metro areas delineated by the U.S. Census Bureau. The data come from the Economic Policy Institute’s deep-dive into income inequality. We color-coded each metro area according to the ratio of how much more the top 1% of earners make compared to everyone else on average. For example, the lightest shade of pink indicates that the top 1% “only make” on average 5 to 15 times more than the Average Joe, but in the dark red areas, the ratio climbs to 75x and up.
Top 10 Metros with the Highest Income Inequality
1. Jackson, WY-ID: 132
2. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL: 90.1
3. Key West, FL: 81.3
4. Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL: 67.2
5. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT: 62.2
6. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL: 55.4
7. Port St. Lucie, FL: 45.5
8. Glenwood Springs, CO: 45
9. Hailey, ID: 44.9
10. Gardnerville Ranchos, NV: 44.3
Top 10 Metros with the Lowest Income Inequality
1. Junction City, KS: 5.4
2. Fort Leonard Wood, MO: 6.2
3. Rio Grande City, TX: 6.8
4. Los Alamos, NM: 7.0
5. California-Lexington Park, MD: 7.3
6. St. Marys, GA: 7.3
7. Peru, IN: 7.9
8. Juneau, AK: 8.5
9. Fort Polk South, LA: 8.5
10. Altus, OK: 8.5
There’s a lot that can be said about what our map reveals about income inequality across the US, but let’s start with the basics. At a foundational level, income inequality is pervasive. The top 1% still earn 5.4 times more than the rest of the workforce in the least unequal metro area. The average ratio across all 916 areas is an eye-popping 16.8, and 34 areas have ratios higher than 30x.
And here’s the real kicker. We are mapping the difference between two averages: the average income of the top 1%, and the average income of the bottom 99%. That means there are both people in the top 1% who make significantly more than 30x everyone else, and it means there are lots of poor people who make pennies compared to middle class workers.
So income inequality is generally high across the country, but our map also demonstrates the places where it is really high. There are several clusters of metro areas shaded pink and dark pink all over the place, but take a look at Florida. 5 out of the top 10 most unequal metro areas are in the Sunshine State, including 3 out of the top 5. There is an obvious explanation for such a disparity. Lots of people retire from colder parts of the country to Florida, making it a haven for wealthy folks who as a result drive up inequality.
Here’s another factor to consider. Does a state’s income tax rate affect wealth inequality? One could argue that high tax rates encourage wealthy individuals to move, lowering income inequality. At the other end of the spectrum, one could also argue that extremely low (or no) income taxes would attract wealthy individuals with high incomes from other states, driving up inequality.
We will leave it to economists to decide if income taxes redistribute wealth or cause rich people to move elsewhere. We will only point out that 11 of the top 20 metro areas with the worst income inequality are in states with no income tax, namely Florida, Nevada, Wyoming and Texas. It’s worth noting that Alaska, South Dakota and Washington also don’t have an income tax, but the first two tend to be extremely rural and Washington isn’t exactly the most equal place in the country either. And to be fair, there are lots of states with extremely high tax rates and enduring inequality too, like California and Oregon.
Still, low taxes and good weather are obvious ways to attract wealthy retirees.
Data: Table 1.1