First, we can look at a comparison of how much median income earners in the U.S. make compared to other countries (in U.S. dollars). Luxembourg is the standout at the far right, with the U.S. not far behind, showing the fourth highest median income alongside some Scandinavian countries. Mexico, Turkey and some Eastern European countries have the lowest median incomes.
A story starts to emerge, however, if we look at the median income of the bottom 10% of earners. Suddenly the relative position of the U.S. shifts way to the left; the bottom 10% of earners in the U.S. make less than the OECD average. Notice that the relative placements of the other high income and low income states don’t shift very much. This means that while people in the U.S. are doing relatively well overall, the poorest people in the U.S. are doing worse than the poorest in about 2/3rds of the other countries:
Then, if you look at the median income of the top 10%, the relative position of the U.S. moves all the way to the right; that is, the top 10% of U.S. earners make more than the top 10% of earners in any other OECD country. We even beat out Luxembourg:
Most other countries retain their relative position, more or less, with the exception of Sweden, which drops way down. So the richest Swedes are, relatively speaking, not that rich.
The lesson is that income inequality–the difference between the incomes of the high earners and low earners–is significantly more severe in the U.S. than it is in other OECD countries (and that may be an understatement).
See this post for another graphic showing that income inequality is larger in the U.S. than in most other industrialized countries. Also, the top 1/100th of a percent in the U.S. brings home a larger proportion of the total earned income in 2007 than they have since 1913. And here is the percent of total U.S. income that went to the top 1% of earners (23% as of 2006). Also see our posts breaking down CEO compensation, on the disproportionate tax burden by social class, and on class inequality across U.S. states.Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.