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Adding Insult to Injury: Racial Disparity in an Era of Increasing Income Inequality

Working Paper Number CARRA-WP-2017-01
Randall Akee, Maggie R. Jones and Sonya R. Porter


Using unique linked data, we examine income inequality and mobility across racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Our data encompass the universe of tax filers in the U.S. for the period 2000 to 2014, matched with individual-level race and ethnicity information from multiple censuses and American Community Survey data. We document both income inequality and mobility trends over the period. We find significant stratification in terms of average incomes by race and ethnic group and distinct differences in within-group income inequality. The groups with the highest incomes—Whites and Asians—also have the highest levels of within-group inequality and the lowest levels of within-group mobility. The reverse is true for the lowest-income groups: Blacks, American Indians, and Hispanics have lower within-group inequality and immobility. On the other hand, our low-income groups are also highly immobile when looking at overall, rather than within-group, mobility. These same groups also have a higher probability of experiencing downward mobility compared with Whites and Asians. We also find that within-group income inequality increased for all groups between 2000 and 2014, and the increase was especially large for Whites. In regression analyses using individual-level panel data, we find persistent differences by race and ethnicity in incomes over time. We also examine young tax filers (ages 25-35) and investigate the long-term effects of local economic and racial residential segregation conditions at the start of their careers. We find persistent long-run effects of racial residential segregation at career entry on the incomes of certain groups. The picture that emerges from our analysis is of a rigid income structure, with mainly Whites and Asians confined to the top and Blacks, American Indians, and Hispanics confined to the bottom.


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