Seattle hits record high for income inequality, now rivals San Francisco

In short, the rich are getting richer in Seattle. The top 20 percent of income earners took home more than half the city’s total income — and the richest saw a $40,000 pay raise in 2016.

Some records you don’t want to break.

In 2016, Seattle hit an all-time high for a commonly used measure of income inequality, known as the Gini index. And if you’re worried about Seattle turning into the next San Francisco, this won’t set your mind at ease: Last year marks the first time we’ve matched the City by the Bay for this particular statistic.

The U.S. Census Bureau has been calculating the Gini index for every place in the nation since 2006. The index is expressed as a number from 0 to 100, with a higher number indicating a more unequal distribution of household incomes.

For example, a place with perfect equality — if such a place existed — would score 0, meaning every household had the exact same income. Conversely, an index of 100 would mean total inequality — one household earned all the income.

Seattle’s Gini index had always been between 48 and 49, without much change from year to year. And, in fact, it had seemed to be trending slightly downward since 2011.

But in 2016, it shot up to 50.4, a jump of nearly 3 points from 2015. Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, that’s the second-biggest increase, slightly behind Fresno, California.

This also marks the first time Seattle had a Gini index higher than 50. Income inequality here is now on par with San Francisco, with an index of 50.3 last year.

What’s behind the hike in Seattle’s Gini index last year? The answer will surprise no one: The rich got richer.

The average income for the top 20 percent of Seattle households — that’s about 64,000 households — shot up by more than $40,000 last year, hitting $318,000. They took home 53 percent of all the income earned by city residents, up nearly 3 percentage points from 2015.

Meanwhile, the bottom 20 percent of households, along with households in the middle, saw their share of the total income decline.

This may sound like the poor got poorer — or, for that matter, that Seattle’s move toward a $15 minimum wage isn’t helping those households at the bottom. But that’s not what the data show. Household incomes at the bottom remained unchanged last year. There were also slight increases in income for middle-earning households.

The reason income inequality got worse is that the gains…

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