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Wealth & Income Gap Growing Quickly

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Income Inequality in West Virginia. Graph from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Income Inequality in West Virginia. Graph from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
November 16, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A new study based on census figures shows the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow quickly. Analysts say it's becoming a serious issue for the economy as a whole.

Stuart Frazier, an analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, says the figures show the gap has grown even faster than average here. He says by one measure the distance between the state's rich and poor households has doubled in 30 years.

"Families in the top 5 percent, their income is about 10 times as large as the poorest 20 percent of West Virginians."

Economists stress that rising inequality is not inevitable, that the gap between rich and poor actually fell between World War Two and 1970. And they say it also fell for a brief period during the economic growth of the late 90s. They say part of that was due to Clinton era tax policies and a rise in the minimum wage.

According to Elizabeth McNichol, a senior fellow with the state fiscal project of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, the gap has grown nationally for three decades, but has become worse in the last 10 years.

"When the economy has grown, the lion's share of that has gone to households at the top. What we've seen in the last decade is that the incomes of the households at the bottom are actually declining."

McNichol says inequality is bad because it makes the economy less flexible. And she says people who work hard and play by the rules should be rewarded.

"There's a question of fairness. The economic growth comes from the contributions of people in all walks of life. When your place on the income scale determines whether you get rewards for that work, then that's a problem."

She says education, job training and tax policies at the state level can make a big difference.

"Assistance in childcare, job training, transportation, health insurance can help families get jobs and move up the income scale."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV