This article is excerpted from a forthcoming PRB Population Bulletin on “The Demography of Inequality,” by Mark Mather and Beth Jarosz, planned for release this fall.

(September 2014) In the United States, the gap between those at the top of the economic ladder and those at the bottom is wide and growing. Since the Great Recession, public discourse has focused primarily on the earnings of top executives—the top 1 percent—in comparison with low-wage workers. But broader measures of income inequality also show a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. The Gini Index, which measures inequality across households, recently registered its first significant year-to-year increase since 1993 and has risen by 20 percent since 1967.1

The U.S. poverty rate has also increased in recent years, but at 14.5 percent the poverty rate is well below levels recorded 50 years ago when President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty. Poverty rates have fluctuated over time, increasing during recessions and decreasing during periods of economic growth.

However, for many regions poverty and inequality have increased in tandem in recent years. In the late 1980s and 1990s, income inequality and poverty intersected primarily in Appalachia, the Deep South, and parts of California and the Southwest. But during the past decade, poverty and inequality spread to new areas in Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia, Michigan, and Tennessee (see map). By 2008-12, the majority of counties in the South (59 percent) were experiencing high levels of inequality combined with high poverty levels. Nationwide, 37 percent of counties fell into this category in 2008-12, up from 31 percent in 1999 and 29 percent in 1989.