Over the last three decades, inequality has grown by almost all measures. Historically, while those at the top of the income distribution have enjoyed far higher average incomes than everybody else, the gap between the top and the bottom has grown enormously in recent years, driven both by slowdowns in income growth at the bottom and middle, and rapid acceleration of income growth at the top. In addition, there has been a further pulling apart even within uppermost reaches of the income scale, as the richest of the rich have seen significantly faster gains than the merely affluent. These outcomes are true when measured by family income, by wages, and by wealth. Clear disparities exist between racial and ethnic groups, and they have also grown over time in the form of higher poverty rates and larger wealth gaps. Furthermore, access to “good jobs”—those not only with decent wages, but also access to pensions and health insurance—is far lower among the lower income and non-white groups, and the gulf between access to such benefits is growing over time.
This fragmenting of income growth has been accompanied by other fissures—for example, those at the bottom of the income distribution are not only less likely to get ahead financially, but they have also been left behind when it comes to recent gains to overall life expectancy. In the past three decades, it has been impossible to answer the basic question of “how’s the economy doing” without first specifying for whom.