Gap between Rich, Poor Growing, Studies Show

National Catholic Reporter, July 26, 1996 | Go to article overview

Gap between Rich, Poor Growing, Studies Show


Yes, it does matter that the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer.

While it may be off the political map in the 1990s, the issue, like the "Hound of Heaven," will not leave people of conscience alone. It haunts us. Billions are hungry and getting hungrier while a tiny, rich fraction of the human family stashes away incalculable wealth. Morality issues aside, herein lie the seeds of anger, rebellion and destruction. The well-being of the human family and even the survival of the planet is at stake.

Two reports published in the past month solidly reaffirm what we have long known to be true, and belie the neoconservative mindset that argues that all will prosper if governments--with their distributive justice mentalities--get out of the way and allow big business to rule planet Earth.

The first reminder came last month in a U.S. Census Bureau report written by Daniel H. Weinberg and titled, 'Are thr rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?" His answer: Without a doubt.

The Census Bureau has been studying the distribution of income since the late 1940s. According to the report, Census Bureau studies first indicated a growth in the middle class, or, in the words of the report, a "decline in family income inequality," of 7.4 percent from 1947 to 1968. Between 1968 and 1994, however, there has been an increase in income inequality of 22.4 percent.

Living conditions of Americans have changed considerably since the late 1940s. In particular, a smaller fraction of all persons live in families (two or more persons living together related by blood or marriage, according to the bureau). Therefore, starting in 1967, the Census Bureau began reporting on the income distribution of households in addition to that of families. By coincidence, 1968 was the year in which measured postwar income was at its most equal for families. The bureau's index of inequality has been growing since, now for more than a quarter-century.

The bureau says inequality grew slowly in the 1970s and rapidly during the early 1980s. From about 1987 through 1992, the growth in measured inequality seemed to taper off, reaching 11.9 percent above its 1968 level. This, however, was followed by a large jump in 1993. The bureau index for inequality in household income in 1994 was 17.5 percent above its 1968 level.

Measured in dollars, the average income of households in the top fifth grew from $73,754 in 1968 to $105,945 in 1994. This is a 44 percent growth. During the same period, the average income in the bottom fifth grew by only 8 percent, from $7,202 to $7,762.

Since 1979, the Census Bureau says, it has examined several experimental measures of income. …

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