Friday, September 10, 2010

The United States of Inequality

click to view larger graphic

Come election time, you'll almost always hear the question: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

The above chart will help you answer the question.

The source data comes from Professor Larry Bartels. The chart is from Catherine Mulbrandon, and the reporting is from Timothy Noah and his series The United States of Inequality on

The topic of income inequity is something we've looked at in the past, and I encourage everyone reading this to read the Slate article carefully: it's a subject that deserves our careful attention.

Update: a frequently-asked question in response to Professor Bartel's research is "isn't Congress more important that the President when it comes to passing bills?" He addresses the concern in his book, Unequal Democracy:

If patterns of income growth differ so dramatically under Democratic and Republican presidents, it seems natural to wonder whether similar differences are attributable to Democratic and Republican members of Congress. Unfortunately, the historical pattern of change in the partisan composition of Congress in the post-war era makes it very hard to tell. With Democrats holding an uninterrupted majority in the House of Representatives from 1955 through 1994 and Republicans in control from 1995 through 2006, any effect of variation in the partisan composition of Congress is likely to be confounded with the effects of broader economic trends. Thus, although simple tabulations of income growth levels suggest that they have generally been higher when Congress has been more Democratic, those differences cannot be considered dispositive.
Adding a measure of the average proportion of Democrats in the House and Senate to the regression equations reported in table 2.3 suggests that Democrats in Congress probably had positive effects on income growth, at least for low-income families; but the relevant parameter estimates are small (implying that even the largest observed shift in the partisan composition of Congress had much less effect on income growth than a shift in partisan control of the White House) and very imprecise (with an average t-statistic of .35).


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