Skip to main content

Income Inequality Grows in the South

Income Inequality Grows in the South

Income inequality is not limited to Wall Street. It’s also growing on Main Street—particularly in the South, new Census data show.

The national Gini Index of income inequality increased for the first time in a single year since the government began tracking it in 1993, according to the 2011 American Community Survey released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. And all 13 states of the South were in the bottom half for income equality.

As this map shows, with darker shading signifying a higher Gini Index, the most unequal states are mostly in the Southeast and Northeast. 

(Source: U.S Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey)

The South also has worse inequality within its communities than any other region, according to a study from the Census Bureau.

The growing income inequality is also reflected in other findings in the 2011 American Community Survey. Southern states are still lagging behind the rest of the nation in indicators of income and poverty, for instance, though the most rapid declines appear to be behind us:

  •  Median household income decreased in several Southern states: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. However, only Florida and Louisiana had larger decreases in income than from 2009 to 2010.  
  •  The poverty rate increased in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina and Texas, with no significant change in the other Southern states. Only Louisiana had a worse increase than 2009 to 2010.
  •  Several Southern states saw large decreases in the number of non-citizens: 1 percent in Florida, 7 percent in Georgia, 13 percent in Alabama, 6 percent in North Carolina, 4 percent in South Carolina

One-year estimates don’t tell us much about overall trends, but they raise questions about the nature of the upcoming recovery and how that recovery will demographically and economically reshape the South. Will the pending recovery include all Southerners, or just those who already are succeeding? How can we ensure that low-paying service jobs sustain families and encourage social mobility? The MDC blog will address these issues, among others related to creating equity and opportunity across the South and nation, in the months to come.

A few other analyses from last week’s Census release:

NPR summarizes national data, describing slight decreases in median household income and increases in poverty, as well as a decrease in immigration from Latin America in several states.

Cities are experiencing an uneven recovery, Elizabeth Kneebone of Brookings illustrates in a couple of cool maps at The Atlantic Cities. Southwestern and California metros had large increases in poverty in the last year, while many other places bottomed out with little improvement. One piece of terrific analysis, which illustrates that an uneven recovery has the danger of exacerbating income inequality: “Between 2010 and 2011, 25 of the nation’s largest metro areas experienced a significant increase in income inequality (as measured by the Gini index), compared to 11 regions the year before.”

Twenty-seven states now have child poverty rates of 20 percent or more, writes Julie Isaacs at the Urban Institute. Before the recession, she says, 14 states, mostly Southern and Southwestern, had such high rates.

Greg Kaufman, in his blog with The Nation, is compiling a series of questions for the presidential candidates, working to insert poverty into the national political debate.