Last year, income inequality in America reached its highest level since the Census Bureau started tracking it in 1967, according to federal data released Thursday.
In the midst of the longest economic expansion that the United States has ever seen, with poverty and unemployment rates at historic lows, the separation between rich and poor from 2017 and 2018 was greater than it has ever been, federal data show.
The gulf is starkest in wealthy coastal areas such as Washington, D.C.; New York; Connecticut; and California, as well as in areas with widespread poverty like Puerto Rico and Louisiana.
Alaska, Utah and Wyoming have the lowest, or best, level of inequality, while Nebraska and Iowa tie for sixth best, according to Census data compiled by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research.
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The Gini index measures wealth distribution across a population, with zero representing total equality and 1 representing total inequality, where all wealth is concentrated in a single household. The indicator has been rising steadily during the past several decades. When the Census Bureau began studying income inequality more than 50 years ago, the Gini index was 0.397. In 2018, the Gini index rose to 0.485.
By comparison, no European country had a Gini index greater than 0.38 between 2017 and 2018.
Recent economic gains by lower-income workers who have found jobs and benefited from minimum-wage increases in many states have not been enough to close the long-running trend of the wealthy seeing far larger income growth than middle- or lower-income earners. The number of families earning $15,000 or less has fallen since 2007, according to the latest census data, while the number of households bringing in $250,000 a year or more has grown more than 15%.
Though the gap between the richest and poorest expanded, the nation’s median household income topped $63,000 for the first time — though after adjusting for inflation, it’s roughly the same as it was 20 years ago.
The persistent rise in inequality has become a central topic in the 2020 presidential race, with candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren calling for a wealth tax. This week, Sanders announced his plan for a wealth tax as high as 8% on the ultrawealthy, which would raise $4.35 trillion over a decade, according to analysis by economists who consulted with the Warren and Sanders campaigns.
“There should be no billionaires,” Sanders tweeted to announce his plan. “We are going to tax their extreme wealth and invest in working people.”
World-Herald staff writer Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.
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Tony Amato, Ann Amato and Sam Amato pictured at Amato's in 2015. After more than 45 years as a staple of central Omaha dining, Amato's Cafe & Catering closed in June of this year. The restaurant was well known for its oversized pancakes, its homemade Italian sausage, and a devoted neighborhood crowd.
Blue Blood Brewery in Lincoln abruptly closed its doors in May following a lawsuit brought by the property ownership group saying that the brewery and its owner, Brian Podwinski, owed unpaid rent. The brewery sat atop popular landmark Robber's Cave, whose owners have since reopened for public tours.
Buck's, the oldest shoe store in Nebraska and a pillar of Fremont's Main Street, sold its final pair of shoes near the end of April, closing three years shy of its 100th anniversary. Founder Earl Buck started the store in 1922 and grew it from a single Omaha store to one with more than 30 locations across Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas.
Kirk Brown, owner of Buck's Shoes since 1986, with customer Don Havekost. If you remove the time he spent at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kirk has worked in Buck's pretty much every day of his life since he sold his first pair of shoes at age 13.
B&G Tasty Foods, known for its loose-meat sandwich, announced its closure this past April and closed on May 27, after being an Omaha staple for 66 years.
In 2017, Bass Pro Shops bought Cabela's, a Sidney-based retailer founded in 1961. After consolidating operations at its headquarters in Missouri, Bass Pro then closed the former distribution center in Sidney and merchandise return center in Oshkosh in March of this year. Now all that's left of the Cabela's operations in Sidney is a retail store and a limited corporate presence.
In the wake of the sale, former Cabela's staffers have started two different outdoors businesses in Sidney, Highby Outdoors and NexGen Outfitters. Toronto-based company MMP Enterprises has announced that it would locate 155 new jobs in Sidney at the former Cabela's building, according to the local economic development partnership.
After an attempted sale, Ascena Retail Group Inc. announced in May it would be closing the Dressbarn clothing chain, including locations in Omaha, Council Bluffs, Papillion, Lincoln, Grand Island and an outlet at Nebraska Crossing.
After countless birthday parties, mini-golf games and tickets exchanged for prizes, Family Fun Center closed in March of this year, selling off its remaining arcade games and inventory in a recent auction.
GERDA'S GERMAN RESTAURANT
Gerda's German Restaurant and Bakery, a mainstay at 52nd and Leavenworth, closed its doors in June of this year and will host its last Oktoberfest this month.
GERDA'S GERMAN RESTAURANT
The closing announcement came a year after the death of Gerda Bailey, the namesake and longtime owner of the business.
Shoes on display at the Grand Island Conestoga Mall Payless store in 2012. Payless ShoeSource filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February of this year and began closing its remaining stores in North America, including three stores in Omaha, one in Bellevue and two in Lincoln.
Since declaring bankruptcy in January of this year, Shopko has closed more than 20 stores in Nebraska and Iowa, including this location in Council Bluffs.
Werner Trucks at the Pamida-Shopko facility at 10808 S. 132nd St. in 2011. Shopko effectively closed the distribution center in April of this year.
Longtime Omaha roller skating rink SkateDaze announced it would close in February of this year and held its final skate at the end of March.
Josten Estremera, left, and Riley Van Ginkel at work behind the skate rental counter during the final Adult Request Skate. According to a statement announcing the closure, owners Scott and Pam Cernik "are ready to hang up their skates and pursue other passions."