50 years ago, income inequality was severe in the U.S. It still is

Excerpt from the December 6, 1969 issue of Science News

inequality graph

Over the last half century, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the United States has persisted. 

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Trends in inequality, Science News, December 6, 1969 —

The share of the total national income going to the poorest 20 percent of the [United States] has increased very little in the past 20 years … only from 5.1 to 5.4 percent … between 1947 and 1967. The proportion of the low-earning group that is nonwhite has remained at about 21 percent, which is more than twice the proportion of nonwhite families in the country as a whole. And census figures reveal that a greater proportion of the bottom fifth … reside in the South.


There’s still a wide gap between the haves and the have-nots in the United States. In 2018, the lowest-earning fifth of the population earned only about 3 percent of the nation’s total income, while the highest-earning fifth raked in about 52 percent. 

Income disparities between racial groups have also endured, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In 2018, the average income was about $87,200 for Asian American households, $70,600 for white households, $51,500 for Hispanic households and $41,400 for black households. Poverty rates follow a similar trend: about 10.1 percent of Asian, 8 percent of white, 17.6 percent of Hispanic and 20.8 percent of black households fell below the poverty line, in which a household’s income isn’t enough to meet the family’s basic needs. 

America’s poorer populations are still concentrated in the South. In 2018, residents of the Northeast, West and Midwest earned an average $70,100, $69,500 and $64,100, respectively. Those in the South earned a substantially lower $57,300. Southern communities also suffer higher poverty rates — about 13.6 percent in 2018, compared with 10.3, 11.2 and 10.4 percent in the Northeast, West and Midwest, respectively. And those regional contrasts could become more severe with climate change (SN: 6/29/17). 

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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