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Visualizing Our Enormous Wealth Inequality, And What You Can Do About It

Rising income inequality is getting more difficult to ignore. Inequality.is, a fun interactive website, walks you through the problem (and helps give you ideas about the solution).

  • <p>The site Inequality.is wants to help you understand our income inequality problem, how it came to be, and what you can do to fix it. It starts by asking you to guess how much income is made by the top 1% of earners.</p>
  • <p>Did you guess right?</p>
  • <p>Then, given a few facts about you, it tells you the median income of people like you. This is for a white man with a bachelor’s degree.</p>
  • <p>If you’re a white man, say, you’re probably doing a lot better than some other people, even though you’re doing a lot worse than the 1%.</p>
  • <p>You’re also doing way worse than a hypothetical you from a world where wages kept up with productivity.</p>
  • <p>That’s really the crux of the issue, as exemplified in this chart, which shows how, after 1948, workers’ wages and productivity, which had been closely tied, diverged--while the earnings of the top 1% skyrocketed.</p>
  • <p>But the site says this is fixable, and offers a few policy prescriptions.</p>
  • 01 /07

    The site Inequality.is wants to help you understand our income inequality problem, how it came to be, and what you can do to fix it. It starts by asking you to guess how much income is made by the top 1% of earners.

  • 02 /07

    Did you guess right?

  • 03 /07

    Then, given a few facts about you, it tells you the median income of people like you. This is for a white man with a bachelor’s degree.

  • 04 /07

    If you’re a white man, say, you’re probably doing a lot better than some other people, even though you’re doing a lot worse than the 1%.

  • 05 /07

    You’re also doing way worse than a hypothetical you from a world where wages kept up with productivity.

  • 06 /07

    That’s really the crux of the issue, as exemplified in this chart, which shows how, after 1948, workers’ wages and productivity, which had been closely tied, diverged--while the earnings of the top 1% skyrocketed.

  • 07 /07

    But the site says this is fixable, and offers a few policy prescriptions.

The riches of the wealthiest have been growing fast—much faster than for the rest of us. Between 1983 and 2010, the top 5% saw their pile expand 74.2%, while the bottom two-thirds actually saw theirs contract. Income inequality is bad enough, but wealth inequality is particularly troubling. Wealth—something banked and stable—is more powerful than mere income, which can disappear at any moment.

You probably already knew this, because inequality has been bubbling up as an issue for years now. More than 6.5 million people watched this terrific video showing the disconnect between what people think wealth distribution is, what they think it ought to be, and what it actually is. (One memorable takeaway: The top 1% has more wealth than what 92% of Americans think the top 20% should have.)

Whether Inequality.is, a new website from the Economic Policy Institute, will get 6.5 million hits, we don’t know. But it’s another visually-interesting riff on the theme.

Running through a series of graphics, you can decide what the top 10% should get, and find out how it’s actually divvied up (48% for the top 10%). Then, you can see why most people’s income hasn’t kept up with economic productivity, and how that divergence (starting in the late 1970s) has widened over time.

Finally, Inequality.is shows how all of this "didn’t happen by accident," but is a function of a range of policies, from taxes to trade. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich appears in the policy section to explain (video above).

The only cheery part is the last bit, which makes the point that if we created this situation, we can theoretically fix it by changing certain policies (tax fairness, financial regulation, and so on). But first, more of us need to accept that there’s problem worth fixing: many people still think the game is fair to everyone.