Increasingly Unequal: Income Inequality in Wisconsin is on the Rise

Friday, February 28, 2014 at 2:15 PM by

Income inequality in Wisconsin is widening, according to a new report by the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) and the Wisconsin Budget Project. The top 1% of earners in Wisconsin have experienced tremendous gains in average income in recent decades, while incomes for the bottom 99% have declined.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Between 1979 and 2011, the average income of the top 1% in Wisconsin grew by 104%, while the average income of the bottom 99% dropped by 0.4%.
  • The top 1% in Wisconsin had an average income of $783,000 in 2011, more than 18 times the average income of the bottom 99%.
  • In 2011, 15.7% of income went to the top 1% in Wisconsin, a share that has more than doubled since the 1970s.

Over the last hundred years, income inequality has followed a U-shape in Wisconsin, with very high levels of income inequality during the 1920s and 1930s, much lower levels in the middle part of the century as economic gains were made at all income levels, and then climbing again to very high levels.

In the aftermath of the recession, income inequality in Wisconsin continues to grow. Between 2009 and 2011, the top 1% in Wisconsin claimed 71% of the total income growth. The average incomes of the top 1% grew by 3.9% during this period, compared to just 0.9% growth in average income for the bottom 99%.

Some of the recent actions taken by the Wisconsin legislature will widen the income gap between the top 1% and the bottom 99%. Many of the recent tax cuts in Wisconsin have disproportionately benefitted the highest earners, and cuts to tax credits mean that Wisconsin families and seniors with modest incomes will be paying more in taxes. Deep cuts in support for the state’s university and technical college system make it harder for Wisconsin residents to improve their skills and increase their income.

If Wisconsin wants to get serious about tackling income inequality and the substantial social costs it brings, policymakers should instead raise the minimum wage, build the skills and education of Wisconsin’s workforce, support working families, and make state taxes more equal across income groups.

You can read the full report here: Pulling Apart 2014: Focus on Wisconsin’s 1%.

You can also use the interactive data feature on our website to explore how the incomes of Wisconsin’s top 10%, 1%, and even 0.01% have changed over time.

One Response to “Increasingly Unequal: Income Inequality in Wisconsin is on the Rise”

  1. Barb LaCour says:

    So how does Governor Walker answer this claim? He makes it sound like our economy and job creation is positive but whom is it benefiting?
    I work with young families and I see and empathize with their struggle to provide for their family. Young families need the most resources to equip their children with quality experiences and positive environments. Our state needs to look at the whole picture of what families need and support them with hire wages and lower taxes. Let the 1% do their part in giving back to their communities.
    Thank you for your weekly reports; I think they should be sent nation wide since our state economy would impact the possibility of Gov. Walkers run for President. Is everyone seeing the true picture?