America's explosion of income inequality, in one amazing animated chart

By:  Michael Hiltzik

Defenders of the economic status quo in America continue to assert that economic inequality (1) doesn't exist, (2) isn't as bad as you think, or (3) is actually good for everybody.

That's despite empirical evidence that the gap between the rich and the middle class is wide and growing and that the trend is hollowing out the middle class, as well as sociological findings of its corrosive effect on society and politics. Among the "grave moral consequences of widening inequality in an environment of modest growth" identified by political economist Benjamin M. Friedman in 2009, for instance, are "racial and religious discrimination, antipathy toward immigrants, [and] lack of generosity toward the poor"--all features of our current campaign landscape.

The best graphical illustration of the economic trend we've seen is the animation below, showing the shift in "middle income" households from 1971 to 2015. It was created by the data team at the Financial Times, based on statistics from a December 2015 report by the Pew Research Center on America's middle class. (The chart recently picked up a silver at the Malofiej awards of the Society for News Design's European district.)

The chart shows the peak representing the income blocks with the largest percentages of households moving from the "middle income" category toward the lower income range, while the largest single block, households with annual earnings of $200,000 or more, moving from a small share of the total to the largest single share, easily outstripping all other income segments. Each bar in the graphic represents the percentage of adults by $5,000 increment of income except the last one on the far right, which covers all income in excess of $200,000. All figures are in 2014 dollars.

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