Before you dig out your flapper dresses and suspenders, odds are this is a party you can’t afford to attend. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that the level of income inequality in the United States and North Carolina has increased over the past several years to a point where we are now at or above the economic divide that helped to propel the world in the worst economic collapse in modern history.
“There has been vast and widespread growth in income inequality in every corner of the country. Overall, the growth in incomes of the bottom 99 percent has improved since our last report, in step with a strengthening economy, but the gap between the top 1 percent and everyone else still grew in the majority of states we examine here.”
In North Carolina, the average income for someone in the top one percent is 20.6 times larger than everyone else, a figure that has increased substantially during the Great Recession and is much higher than it was in the 1960s through early 1980s. The top one percent took home over 17 percent of all income in North Carolina in 2015, and the top 0.1 percent commanded 7.4 of all income. In 1974, when the level of income inequality in North Carolina was the lowest in modern history, the top one percent only consumed 7.8 percent of all North Carolina income.
We’re not doomed to repeat the Great Depression, but it is clear that state and federal policy in the last several years has failed to address the single most pressing economic challenge of our time. Instead of hoping that more tax cuts for wealthy people and profitable corporations will magically fix our problems, it’s time for leaders in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., to admit that we are reaching levels of inequality that threaten the social and economic fabric of our country.
Patrick McHugh is an Economic Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.