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Income Inequality Has Snuck Into Every Field In The Last 50 Years

Whether you're a lawyer, banker, or IT professional, almost every field now has an elite tier of earners separated from everyone else.

Income Inequality Has Snuck Into Every Field In The Last 50 Years

[Photo: Flickr user ciocci]

This chart, from FlowingData, shows the growing income gap in the U.S., from 1960 to 2014. Broken into 20-year chunks, it illustrates the distribution of total income of employees in various fields of work, from legal and finance, to food service and construction, and the results will not surprise anyone who follows income inequality—the gap between the top earners and the average wage-slave is bigger today than ever.

The most startling change, if you switch between 1960 and 2014, is the big white gap between the majority of earners on the left and the high-paid elite on the right. In 1960, there’s a clear graduation in each field. There’s a cluster around the average wage for that field, with a few lower-paid dots, and a few higher paid dots, but it’s a continuum. If you stretched off a lump of still-warm taffy, it would look similar. The highest earners are still connected to the majority of the work force.

See the interactive chart here. FlowingData

In 2014, you see this same shape, only then there’s a huge gap, a stretch of blank white, before you get to the top earners. What’s more, almost every field now has an elite tier of earners who make more than $200,000. In 1960, only law professionals had such high earners, but even then the whole profession was still a "stretched-taffy" graph. And back then, only computers and math and healthcare exhibited the blank gap between the majority and the rarefied top-earners.

Another takeaway is that the average working stiff doesn’t make much more money today than they did 50 years ago. Most fields of employment cluster around the same total income today as they did back in 1960 (the numbers have been adjusted for inflation), whereas the top earners have kept moving up. The spread of wages has also increased, which is good news: back in 1960, most fields maxed out at around $75,000 per year for the majority of workers, with only a few going above that. Today, a higher proportion of people are earning over $75,000. That is, if you ignore the elites off to the right, the pulled-taffy is more or less the same thickness, with a slight swelling in the middle, rather than a big lump with a thin strand naked out of it.

Going by this graph, then, it looks like income inequality is growing worse, although there is more space in many professions to earn a higher salary. Most of us, though, are exactly where our ancestors were half a century ago, with the majority of any additional wealth being siphoned off to a few folks at the top.

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