America's Income Gap: Migration to Elections

Hundred dollar billsThe 2010 Census data released this past September showed that the income gap between Americans is widening. More specifically, the income gap between blacks and whites widened such that the average white worker’s income was about 1.7 times higher than that of black workers, which is up significantly from the 1990s. But this isn’t the case across the whole country; the suburbs are experiencing a wave of desegregation and a closing of the income gap.

Affluent black Americans, who are leaving industrial cities for the suburbs and the South, are shifting traditional lines between rich and poor. While suburbia is flourishing amidst the new flux of diverse middle-class residents. Cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and others are suffering from racial and economic inequality because, for the most part, only lower-skilled minorities have remained.

These changes in city demographics will result in political redistricting as the African American political base shifts. Chicago has had one of the biggest losses, with over 180,000 middle- and working-class African Americans leaving the city for the suburbs and the South, where housing is cheaper, schools are better, and jobs are easier to come by. Not only has such migration changed the face of major industrial cities, but it will also change the face of the upcoming elections and how candidates campaign to their new base. Once Southern red states could now become swing states or even blue states due to the influx of African Americans who have left Northern cities.

Concern and debate about wealth distribution has been the central theme of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Although many seem to write off the Occupy movement as a radical minority group, research shows that 92% of Americans are actually in favor of wealth redistribution. When survey participants were asked what they thought the wealth gap was, the majority believed that the top 20% only controlled 59% of wealth, a modest estimation. The truth, however, is that the top 20% control 84% of the wealth. When asked what the ideal distribution of wealth should be, people said that the top 20% should only control 34% of the country’s wealth. This disconnect among Americans’ beliefs about economic inequality, their self-interest, and their public policy preferences suggests that, if there were more awareness of the reality of the gap, people would be more likely to advocate to close it.

As the Occupy movement continues and grows, and more Americans become aware of the real level of wealth inequality, it is sure to be an important topic during the 2012 Presidential election. 

This blog post was coauthored by Alison Terkel.