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Census report: Worsening inequality a recipe for divided nation

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Gillian Smith

Income inequality in the United States grew last year to its highest level in more than 50 years, according to figures released on Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Heartland states are among the leaders of the increase, even though several wealthy coastal states still had the most inequality overall.

Kim Weeden

Professor of the Social Sciences, Director of the Center for the Study of Inequality

Kim Weeden, professor of social sciences who studies inequality in advanced industrial societies and how it changes over time, says the numbers in the report don’t reflect the more extreme wealth inequality in the country.

Weeden says:

“The increase in income inequality reported in today's Census Bureau release doesn't tell the whole story: in the U.S., wealth inequality is even more extreme than income inequality. It's probably more consequential, too, since many of the major economic decisions that middle-class Americans make – whether it's to start a new business or to purchase a home in a neighborhood with well-resourced schools for their children – are more closely tied to wealth than to income.

“In addition to looking at the overall distributions of income or wealth, we also have to pay attention to who is most likely to be at the top and who is most likely to be at the bottom of these distributions. For example, at every education level, women who work full-time have lower median earnings than men who work full-time. Similarly, at every education level, black Americans have just a fraction of the median wealth of white Americans. When you have a system where inequality is rising – and where some groups are perpetually overrepresented at the bottom of the income and wealth distribution, even when they follow the standard prescription for realizing the American Dream – it's a recipe for a politically and socially divided nation.”

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