Let’s return to income inequality, the subject that’s on the mind of everyone, it seems, except most of the American people (at least according to the polls).
Last week, I posted on how the data show there’s a strong correlation between the American states with the biggest rich-poor gaps and votes for President Obama in the 2012 election. In other words, the most unequal states were mainly pro-Obama states. But trends over time are even more important than snapshots, so let’s look at which states became the most and the least unequal from 2012 to 2013 (the latest data available). First, the ten states in which inequality grew the most, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, from the fastest to the slowest growth:
Hawaii, Indiana (t)
Montana, Rhode Island (t)
Illinois, Nebraska (t)
Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota (t)
California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey (t)
Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, Washington (t)
Due to ties, it’s actually 23 states, but here’s their political line-up: 13 of the states in which income inequality rose the most from 2012 went for President Obama, and 10 voted Republican Mitt Romney. That’s a lower percentage for Obama than among the states in which inequality was highest in 2013, but just as with that list, the stronger the growth in inequality, the likelier an Obama verdict.
But do we seem a similar apparent political pattern for states in which inequality rose least, or even fell? Here are the top ten according to this criterion, starting with those states that reduced inequality the most:
North Dakota (fell)
Oklahoma, South Carolina (t) (fell)
Virginia, West Virginia (t)
Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Utah, Wyoming (t)
Alabama, Georgia, Nevada (t)
Colorado, Ohio, Oregon, Texas (t)
Arkansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin (t)
The ratio for this somewhat larger sample of 27 states is pretty similar to that for the best inequality performers – 15 Romney states versus 12 Obama states. Moreover, on this list, the tendency for the Romney states to outperform on the positive side is even stronger than on the first list.
Nonetheless, one year isn’t much of a sample. So for our next look at the geography of inequality, we’ll examine the inequality changes from the start of the recession (2007) to 2013. For now, however, the pattern seen in my first post on the subject still holds: If the liberals who are most worked up about inequality are really determined to solve the problem they see, they should focus first on their own backyards.