Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A thought about the distribution of wealth over the land.

There is a recent study of household incomes by geographic location from the Pew Research Center. Here are some of its findings:
(T)he share of middle-income households (in the United States) has gone down over time. These middle-income households (defined as those where incomes are 67% to 200% of the national median) were 54% of households in 1980 but only 48% in 2010. The share of upper-income households has grown over the 30-year period, to 20% from 15%...... 
In 1980, 23% of U.S. lower-income households lived in majority low-income neighborhoods; in 2010, that had risen to 28%. At the other end of the economic scale, the share of upper-income households living in majority upper-income neighborhoods doubled, to 18% in 2010 from 9% in 1980....... 
Income segregation also rose over the same time period in 27 of the nation’s 30 largest (in terms of households) metropolitan areas.
Some of this simply confirms what we already know. Income has become more skewed since 1980, with the rich getting richer and the middle class having problems. Still, given the importance of the middle class in American society, its thinning in the neighborhoods seems something to worry about. More poor and more rich suggests a growing segregation of our society.

It seems likely to me that the income segregation will have some unfortunate results. The low income neighborhoods may have difficulty competing for services and the high income neighborhoods may get so many as to provoke envy.  Schools in poor neighborhoods may be dealing with more homogeneous populations of poor kids.

We have traditionally had election districts designed to be reasonably compact. This research suggests we will have more electoral districts with mostly poor residents, more with mostly affluent residents, and fewer with mixed economic populations or mostly middle class residents. That suggests that politicians will be representing more homogeneous populations, with greater economic divides between the politicians representing different districts. Not a good sign for our politics.

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