For years, the gap between rich and poor Americans has been growing to levels not seen since the Great Depression, and the District is home to one of the most stark examples of that disparity.

View Photo Gallery: Washington Post staff photographer Michael S. Williamson spent almost a year traveling throughout the United States documenting the effects of the recession on ordinary Americans. As he made his way, he also found whimsical and artistic moments (many captured with his iPhone.) Often, while parked in rest stops or parking lots, he filed via Facebook. Here is a compilation.

The Post’s Carol Morello reported Wednesday that the top fifth of earners in the District make an average of 29 times the income of the bottom fifth — an average household salary of $259,000 compared with $9,100 at the low end — according to 2010 data collected by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

From Morello: “The institute’s report ... was the result of two vastly different economies in the District. One is populated by college graduates thriving in well-paying information and government jobs. The other is for people lacking higher education, scrambling for even low-paying work.”

After the jump, read up on income disparity across Washington, the United States and the world.


• According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, only Atlanta and Boston display wider gaps between high-income and low-income households than the District. And though the District reports the lowest poverty rate of any metropolitan area in the country in 2010, median wages for D.C. residents without advanced degrees haven’t increased more than 1 percent in the past 30 years. For college graduates, that growth was up 30 percent.

United States

• On Forbes’s annual billionaires list, released Wednesday, the world’s 1,226 top earners saw their total net worth rise 2 percent over the past year.

But Americans need not be billionaires to achieve “1 percent” status: A 2010 income of at least $516,633 will qualify. (In the District, though, that threshold is higher, at $617,000.) For that top percentile, wealth has skyrocketed over the past few decades: A study released by the Congressional Budget Office last October indicated that income grew by 275 percent for the top 1 percent of U.S. households between 1979 and 2007, compared with 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent for that same time period.


• On a scale of 0 to 100, “0” being most equal, the United States posted a 43.2 on a world income inequality scale, according to data from World Bank. CNNMoney reported that the United States has a higher level of income inequality than Europe, Canada and South Korea.

When countries are measured against the Gini coefficient, a measurement used to gauge distribution of income across the world, the Post’s Peter Whoriskey reported in June 2011, the United States “is in the company of developing countries — just behind Cameroon and Ivory Coast and just ahead of Uganda and Jamaica.”

You can find more resources from The Post’s “Breakaway Wealth” series. A few useful selections are below:

Capital gains tax policy feeds gap between rich and poor

Rich pull away from rest of America

The Washington region’s most highly paid executives

Is life getting better or worse? In changing times, varied perceptions