Employment Inequality: Job Gap Between Rich And Poor Widest On Record

Credit: Associated Press
Credit: Associated Press

The rich aren’t just taking home a huge share of the country’s income. They’re also much more likely to have a job in the first place.

The gap between the employment rate for the highest income and lowest income Americans is the widest since data was first recorded ten years ago, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. The poor are still experiencing a Great Depression while the rich have nearly full employment.


Unemployment for families at the bottom of the income scale, or those earning less than $20,000, is above 21 percent. That figure “nearly match[es] the rate for all workers during the 1930s Great Depression,” author Hope Yen notes. For the richest making more than $150,000, however, the rate is 3.2 percent, “a level traditionally defined as full employment.”

The analysis also shows that middle-income people are getting pushed into lower-wage jobs, displacing low-income workers who are then jobless or forced to work fewer hours. A report found that three in five jobs added since the end of the recession pay less than $14 an hour and low-wage jobs have been replacing mid-wage ones, while high-pay jobs have basically stayed the same.

There’s also a large gap between rich and poor workers when it comes to how many are “underutilized”: unemployed, working part-time but in need of full-time work, or out of work and not actively seeking a new job but in desire of immediate work. The share of underutilized workers among those making less than $20,000 a year is about 40 percent, while it’s just 7.2 percent for those making more than $150,000.

The employment gap comes at a time of a huge gap in income between the rich and poor as well. The top 10 percent of earners are now taking home the largest share of income ever recorded. And while income for the bottom 99 percent has just barely started to recover since the recession, the 1 percent has basically completely bounced back. Income inequality has been growing since the 1970s as the richest 20 percent saw income grow by $2,550 in that time but the bottom 20 percent saw just $1,330. American policy has pushed the trend along, including the deregulation of Wall Street, special tax treatment for capital gains income, and reduced spending on the social safety net.