Why Income Inequality Has Increased and Why It Really Doesn't Matter
From "Making Sense of Income Inequality" by Diana Furchtgott-Roth:
1. Percent of bottom quintile households who own their homes free of debt: 30%
2. Percent of top quintile households who own their homes free of debt: 17%
3. Percent of top quintile households who have two or more earners: 75%
4. Percent of bottom quintile households who have multiple earners: 2.6%
5. Average age of those in the lowest income quintile: 54 years
Conclusion #1: One reason that the top quintile of households collects more income is that these households tend to have more full-time earners. Census data show that the top quintile has two income earners per household, whereas the bottom quintile has about one earner for every two households. This means there are more than four times as many full-time workers in the top fifth of the income distribution as there are in the bottom fifth.
Women now earn well over half of all B.A. and M.A. degrees, plus half of all medical and law degrees. With higher numbers of well-educated women in the workforce, marriage often combines two medium-earning single-person households into one high-earning two-person household. Such demographic changes have increased both the number and relative wealth of two-earner couples.
Conclusion #2: The average age of the bottom 20% by income (54 years) suggests that the bottom quintile is actually a mix of: a) very young low-income earners and b) many older retirees who are probably in one the top quintiles by wealth (they own their homes free of debt at almost twice the rate as the top 20% by income) even though they might be quite wealthy and living off accumulated savings and investments.
Conclusion #3: In a dynamic economy like the U.S., people typically move among income groups as they grow older and advance in their careers, so a snapshot view of income statistics does not reflect Americans’ true well-being. Given the reality of income mobility, some low-income households arguably are not poor. They may be students who have yet to enter the workforce and whose earnings will rise, or wealth retirees.
Most people, even Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Oprah and Howard Stern, start in the lowest income quintile early in their lives and careers, advance into one of the higher qunitiles as they become successful, and drop back to one of the lower quintiles by income later in life, even though they might be in one of the top quintiles by wealth.