Income inequality and wealth disparity have been frequent topics of conversation, even before the pandemic upended the economy.
This article was written by Avery Koop and originally published by Visual Capitalist.
Now, rising inflation and interest rates, and a possible recession on the horizon are bringing these societal divides into sharp focus.
In the above visualization, U.S. households are parsed out into a neighborhood of 100 homes and then grouped by income brackets, using recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Neighborhood Breakdown
American households vary widely on their respective incomes. The largest cluster of homes, representing nearly 20% of all American households, are in the $25-$49.9k income bracket.
Here’s a look at the share of households in each income bracket and the number of homes they represent.
|Household Income||Share of Total||Number of Homes|
In our hypothetical neighborhood, 18 of the households are in the lowest income bracket. People in this category have a wide variety of jobs, but personal care aides, cashiers, food and beverage positions are some of the most common. As a point of reference, the poverty line for a family of four currently sits at $26,496.
On the flip side, in this small community of 100 houses, 33 earn six figures and typically have at least one family member in a corporate or medical role.
The American Middle Class
The middle class in America has shrunk significantly in the past 50 years, going from 61% of adults being middle income in 1971 to 50% in 2021.
Here’s a look at the economic class breakdowns by annual household income, based on households with three people (Note: the average U.S. household has 2.6 people):
- Upper class: >$156,000
- Middle class: $52,000-$156,000
- Lower class: <$52,000
Although these definitions and conditions don’t align exactly with the buckets we use in the main houses visualization, they come pretty close.
In the neighborhood of 100 homes, 38 homes could be considered low income, while 18 are high income. Meanwhile, sitting in the $50-149.9k middle range of household income are 44 homes.
The Larger Trends
The pandemic had an extremely adverse impact on earnings and income worldwide, and the U.S. was no exception.
Median household income decreased 2.9% to $67.5k between 2019 and 2020, the first decrease since 2014. Additionally, the number of people who worked full-time jobs, year-round decreased by around 13.7 million.
That said, when looking at the longer-term trend, the median income for those considered middle class has jumped by 50% over the last five decades. Here’s a look at the median incomes in each economic class in 1970 vs. 2020:
|1970 Median Household Income (in 2020 $)||2020 Median Household Income||% Change|
With a recession highly likely to occur in the U.S., and rising inflation causing increases in the cost of basic, everyday goods, budgets may get tighter for many households in America, and incomes are likely to be impacted as well.