A member of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement hands out fliers announcing the “99% Return” on a sidewalk near Wall Street on Sept. 13, 2012, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The top 1 percent of earners are a resilient bunch.

For more than three decades, that upper echelon of earners has gobbled up disproportionate shares of income growth in each state, pushing income inequality to levels not seen since the 1920’s, according to a new report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. And while the financial sector has received much of the blame for the ever-growing gap in incomes, the trend is more widespread, the report’s authors argue:

The rise in inequality experienced in the United States in the past three-and-a-half decades is not just a story of those in the financial sector in the greater New York City metropolitan area reaping outsized rewards from speculation in financial markets. While many of the highest-income taxpayers do live in states like New York and Connecticut, IRS data make clear that rising inequality and increases in top 1 percent incomes affect every state.

Relying on federal tax data and employing a methodology similar to that used by professors Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez to calculate their widely cited 2003 findings for the nation as a whole, EPI analyzed inequality for various periods in each state. The report offers a look at income inequality from three perspectives: how it grew during the 3.5 decades leading up to the Great Recession; how it grew during the recovery; and where it stands today.

Income inequality is approaching 1920s levels


(EPI)

What EPI found is that income inequality is growing in every region of the country, with the top 1 percent of earners in Connecticut in 2012 making as much as 51 times what their fellow residents make, the widest such gap of any state. The gap was smallest that year in Hawaii, where the average income for the top slice of earners was still 14.6 times the average for the remaining 99 percent. In Washington, D.C., that multiple is 32.3.

Income ratio of the top 1 percent to the bottom 99 percent


Darker shading represents higher ratios. Data for Wyoming were not available.

The disparity between the top 1 percent and the remaining 99 percent was largest in Connecticut and New York, where the top sliver of earners raked at 48 times the income of the rest. Even among the 10 states with the smallest disparities, earnings for the top 1 percent were between 14 and 19 times those for the rest of residents.

How inequality grew during the recovery

In the vast majority of states, the top 1 percent claimed half or more of the income growth during the first years of the recovery.


North Dakota was the standout state, its fortunes boosted by the fracking boom. Wyoming is another special case. There was an issue with the data, but the authors estimate that incomes for top earners grew by 284 percent. Wyoming’s most famous resident? Walmart heiress Christy Walton, who Forbes called the richest woman in America.

In 16 states and Washington, D.C., income growth among the top 1 percent was so large from 2009 to 2012 that it more than offset the shrinking incomes among the bottom 99 percent, according to EPI. In another 22 states, while both groups saw incomes grow over that period, the top 1 percent captured at least half of that growth. Nevada was the only state where income growth for the top 1 percent was offset by the shrinking incomes of the bottom 99 percent.

In nine more states, the top 1 percent claimed less than half of all income growth. And West Virginia was the only state in the country where the top earners saw incomes shrink while the bottom 99 percent saw incomes grow.

Here’s another way of looking at the same data. This graph plots income growth for the bottom 99 percent against the top 1 percent, state by state. If America were a nation of shared prosperity, the states would cluster around the equal growth line. But in every state except West Virginia, income growth for the one percent outstrips that of the rest of the nation.

In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any relationship at all between the fortunes of the one percent and the 99 percent, which this chart makes clear. Regardless of whether the recovery was kind or cruel to the 99 percent in your state, the one percent saw their share of the pie grow and grow.


Share of growth captured by the 1 percent between 2009 and 2012


Darker shading represents a larger share of income growth claimed by the top 1 percent. Where values are more than 100 percent, the top earners saw incomes grow while the bottom 99 percent saw them shrink.

Inequality from 1979 through the eve of the Great Recession

That growing disparity is hardly a new phenomenon. From 1979 — a business cycle peak and a commonly accepted starting point for income inequality analyses — to 2007, the top 1 percent saw incomes grow by 201 percent, while the rest of the nation saw growth of a mere 19 percent. Put another way, over those nearly three decades, the nation’s highest earners captured more than half of all income growth.

The share of overall income going to that group grew in every single state and D.C. over that period. A state-by-state breakdown finds that in four states — Nevada, Wyoming, Michigan and Alaska — only the top 1 percent saw incomes grow between 1979 and 2007. In 15 more states, the group captured at least half of all income growth.

The disparity was smallest in Louisiana, though the top 1 percent there still claimed more than a fourth of all income growth from 1979 to 2007.

Given the trends of the last half-century, it’s no surprise that the top 1 percent dominated the recent recovery. But it’s unsettling when you realize that on average, the one percent have been enjoying all of America’s income growth from the past couple of years.


Share of growth captured by the 1 percent between 1979 and 2007


Darker shading represents a larger share of income growth claimed by the top 1 percent. Where values are more than 100 percent, the top earners saw incomes grow while the bottom 99 percent saw them shrink.