The wealth gap is a hot political issue. It led Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to propose tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans to fund programs for the middle class and poor. President Donald Trump attacks that as socialism.
But amid such debate for the second straight year, Utah enjoys the nation’s smallest wealth gap — with relatively few who are ultra-rich or miserably poor, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday.
“We’re homogenous,” said Pam Perlich, senior demographer for the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “We’re a working-class state.”
But despite the state’s ranking, its uniformity is changing. Utah is one of nine states (as well as the nation overall) where data shows statistically significant change over the past year toward more income inequality.
“Utah is a place of growth, prosperity and possibility. That means more and more, you’ve got some extreme winners — and the people who have been left behind are really left behind,” Perlich said.
These are among the more interesting findings from the release of the annual American Community Survey, with hundreds of categories of social, economic and demographic statistics for 2018. Other key findings include that Utah incomes are up, poverty is down, and the minority population is growing.
More equal than others
Income equality is measured by something called the “GINI Index,” which gives scores between zero and one. A score of one means one household would have all the income. A score of zero indicates perfect equality among households.
Utah’s score for 2018 is 0.427, up from 0.423 a year earlier. In 2017, Utah and Alaska were essentially in a statistical tie for the lowest score — but they have separated a bit with Alaska now scoring 0.432. The margin of error still has them close.
The national average was 0.485. Puerto Rico had the highest inequality score at 0.542.
New estimates show that relatively few Utahns live at the economic extremes compared with other states.
Only 3.9% of Utah households — one of every 25 — earn less than $10,000 a year. At the other extreme, 6.3% of households here earn more than $200,000 a year, about one of every 16.
Between them, Utahns aren’t exactly uniform — and spread out widely in different income ranges.
Roughly a quarter of Utah households earn between $25,000 and $49,999; a fifth receive $50,000 to $74,999; a sixth earn between $75,00 and $99,999; a fifth earn between $100,000 and $149,999; and an eighth earn between $150,000 and $199,999.