America is well into a new “gilded age,” groans a new study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). The overall conclusion: According to the latest available (2015) data, income inequality in the United States (measured by the share of all income held by the top one percent of Americans) has now passed its previous peak – which came in 1928.
But what’s especially interesting about this study mirrors a major finding of previous research on income inequality – the states with the widest rich-poor gaps are those that have voted Democratic lately (including in the last presidential election), and the states where equality is greatest are those that have voted Republican.
According to the EPI report, these are the ten states where the average incomes of the top one percent of income earners exceeded the average incomes of the rest of that state’s income earners by the widest margins (listed in decreasing degree of inequality):
Of the ten, only Florida and Wyoming were carried by President Trump. Moreover, although the District of Columbia is not a state, it is a member of the Electoral College, and cast its vote for Hillary Clinton. It ranked as the eighth most unequal American polity
Here are the states where, by the same gauge, income are the most equal (listed from most equal to least equal):
Six of these states voted for Mr. Trump, and four for Ms. Clinton. (Maine, with its unusual split system, gave three of its electoral votes to Ms. Clinton and one to Mr. Trump, and was awarded to the Democrats.)
It’s tempting to believe that the states with the highest degrees of inequality are mainly experiencing an unfortunate side effect of strong growth. But of course, that would tend to validate the “trickle down” view of economics that would be embarrassing, to say the least, to blue state electorates that supposedly reject that idea as a fraud. More important, those most unequal states as a group have generated no outsized growth whatever.
Specifically, from the start of the economic recovery (in 2009) through 2015 (the data year on which EPI focuses on), seven of the ten most unequal states grew more slowly, in inflation-adjusted terms, than the nation as a whole. So did the highly unequal District of Columbia. Seven is the exact same number of subpar growers on the list of the ten most equal states
Pointing to the strong correlation between Democratic party leanings and high income inequality by no means proves that the voters and governments of these Democrats-dominated states are hypocrites, and have no interest in narrowing the rich-poor gap they frequently bemoan. But these relationships may support an even more dispiriting conclusion: Despite their avowed interest in the subject and the impressive capacities of many of their state governments to at least mitigate the problem, these electorates and their leaders have no idea how to reduce income inequality.