Graph of the Day

GRAPH OF THE DAY…. Tim Noah is running a multi-part series this week and next on “The Great Divergence,” focusing on an issue that too often gets pushed to the periphery: America’s growing income inequality.


The series includes this graph today, based on data from Larry Bartels, showing income growth rates for the modern political era. The red bars shows growth during Republican administrations, while the blue bars show growth during Democratic administrations.

As Noah (a Monthly alum) explained, “Did the United States grow more unequal while Republicans were in power? It sounds crude, but Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels has gone a long way toward proving it. Bartels looked up income growth rates for families at various income percentiles for the years 1948 to 2005, then cross-checked these with whether the president was a Republican or a Democrat. He found two distinct and opposite trends. Under Democrats, the biggest income gains were for people in the bottom 20th income percentile (2.6 percent). The income gains grew progressively smaller further up the income scale (2.5 percent for the 40th and 60th percentiles, 2.4 percent for the 80th percentile, and so on). But under Republicans, the biggest income gains were for people in the 95th percentile (1.9 percent). The income gains grew progressively smaller further down the income scale (1.4 percent for the 80th percentile, 1.1 for the 60th percentile, etc.).”

Also note, there’s not only a difference in who benefits most, there’s also a straight-up difference between the parties: under the GOP, the very wealth benefit more; under Dems, the middle and lower classes see their incomes grow more. But in literally every category, Americans do better under Democratic administrations than Republican.

Just as an aside, if you enjoy these kinds of comparisons, I’ve been reading a new book called “Presimetrics: What the Facts Tell Us About How the Presidents Measure Up On the Issues We Care About.” It’s fascinating.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.