This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mapping the Intersection of Poverty and Inequality

It is not news, I suppose, that inequality has been increasing in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Thomas Piketty, in particular, has made a name for himself analyzing the trends over time, as I have discussed before. But the topic is important and there is no immediate resolution in sight, so it is very useful to keep looking at it from different perspectives. Mark Mather and Beth Jarosz have put together a new report for the Population Reference Bureau that analyzes the intersection of poverty and inequality, including the spatial intersections. Although the full report is not yet available, they have given us a taste:
In the United States, the gap between those at the top of the economic ladder and those at the bottom is wide and growing. Since the Great Recession, public discourse has focused primarily on the earnings of top executives—the top 1 percent—in comparison with low-wage workers. But broader measures of income inequality also show a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. The Gini Index, which measures inequality across households, recently registered its first significant year-to-year increase since 1993 and has risen by 20 percent since 1967.
The U.S. poverty rate has also increased in recent years, but at 14.5 percent the poverty rate is well below levels recorded 50 years ago when President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty. Poverty rates have fluctuated over time, increasing during recessions and decreasing during periods of economic growth. However, for many regions poverty and inequality have increased in tandem in recent years.
Check out the maps!


  1. John - thanks for sharing. This is possibly one of the best - and most important - articles you have shared here. I agree that the data are very interesting. Indeed, if I were a young person in the USA who was starting off with a home and a family - I would give a lot of attention to that map. However, the essential "social message" is the general trend in the world towards gorwing inequality in income levels. And the vital question - what does this tell us about future social structures? Or to put this in laymans terms that everyone can understand. If the current trends in inequality continue - can democracy survive in the world? Not just in the USA ... but really anywhere? Can it survive? I could put together a fairly logical argument that the answer is a resounding NO.

    And if I'm right - that should give us food for thought.
    And please note - i am not making a simplistic argument about our political system. I am making a broad argument that applies across ALL current political systems. Can democracy survive this trend??

    Pete, Redondo Beach

    1. I agree that this is a HUGE question and, like you, I worry that the answer is no. Teddy Roosevelt had the same worry more than 100 years ago, and did something about it, but I don't see anyone like that on the political horizon. Nor, seemingly, does Francis Fukuyama, whose latest book appears to be equally somber about the future.

  2. John - I'm behind in my blog-reading, but truly appreciate the nod. We're working on the manuscript for the larger report, due out mid-November. In the report we address what will happen to poverty levels in the United States if racial inequalities are not addressed. Hopefully the report will generate important discussions about what that means for broader social issues - health, democracy, etc... as noted above.