Here’s what I’ve been thinking about and I’m going to tell you up front that I’m not quite sure what to make of it. But it’s this chart.
If you look at the top crudely drawn line, you’ll see what’s been kind of my understanding of income distribution in this country. I assumed that there was a large bubble of abject poverty, then a smaller number of people who were poor but not that poor, who were working to make their way up the income ladder and that at each step of the income ladder, there was a slightly larger population, with the largest population being the middle class and the rich.
And, I guess if pressed, I would have been willing to revise my understanding of rich people down closer to the number of abject poor people.
But the point is that I believed that there were always a few more people who were doing a little better than the people below them. That was kind of my understanding of things.
That’s not what the data shows. You can make your own chart in Excel and see.
Instead, what we have is basically a pyramid, with each level containing fewer people than the one before it until you hit about $100,000.
I honestly don’t know what to make of that.
But it raises some questions for me. One is, on a graph like that, where do you locate the middle class? Yes, there are a lot of people who are making between $100,000 and $250,000, but they’re way over there on the right side. Can you have a middle on the far end? If “middle” is where most people fall, does that put the actual middle class in poverty? According to .gov, our mean income as a society is $67,000 a year, but the amount of households pulling that down is just over two million. Out of 110 million households, that seems like barely any.
If each level is smaller than the one below it, what does that really say for class or even income mobility?
I don’t know. I feel like I’m looking at something profound here but I don’t quite know how to wrap my brain around it.