Study finds income inequality gap rising in N.H.

Following a national trend, the income gap between New Hampshire’s wealthiest and poorest residents has grown substantially over the past two decades, according to a report released by two Washington-based think tanks.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute study indicates tht the wealthiest 20 percent of Granite State families earn annual average incomes of $137,905 – six times higher than the $16,747 earned by the state’s lowest-income families. In the early 1980s the difference was 4.6 times higher.

Between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, the average income of the Granite State’s wealthiest 20 percent increased by 79.7 percent, or $61,176, while those at the other end of the earnings spectrum saw an average increase of 38.11 percent, or $6,382. Roughly translated, the top 20 percent saw annual increases of $2,910 while the bottom 20 percent received yearly increases of , 305 according to the report.

Incomes for families in the middle 20 percent increased by 52.58 percent, or $20,113 – from $38,254 to $58,367 over the same time period. This population saw an annual increase averaging about $960.

“When income growth is concentrated at the top of the income scale, the people at the bottom have a much harder time lifting themselves out of poverty,” said Jared Bernstein, senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the study.

Increased globalization and subsequent loss of manufacturing jobs, introduction of more low-paying service jobs, immigration, weakening of unions and declining minimum wage have all contributed to the widening gap, according to the study, which was based on Census Bureau income data adjusted for inflation, impact of federal taxes, capital gains and cash value of state and federal assistance programs.

The study shows the gap between the Granite State’s wealthiest and its poorest is the 31st largest in the country. New York, Texas and Tennessee lead the list.

Just as the findings are consistent throughout the country, so are the possible antidotes, according to Elizabeth McNichols, senior fellow for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and co-author of the report.

McNichols lists increasing minimum wage and supports for low-income families, reforming the unemployment insurance system and introducing tax policies that can partially offset the inequality of pre-tax incomes as things which could be done on a state level to mitigate the growing disparity. – TRACIE STONE

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