Most stories about inequality in America miss an important point: rising disparities are not just about investment bankers versus auto workers. They’re about entire communities of “winners” and “losers.” And as these communities continue to diverge, the idea of “an American economy” looks more and more like an anachronism.
We analyzed reams of demographic, economic, cultural, and political data to break the nation’s 3,141 counties into 12 statistically distinct “types of place.” When we look at family income over the past 30 years through that prism, the full picture of the income divide becomes clearer—and much starker.
Seven of our 12 county-types saw their median family incomes fall. “Immigration Nation” counties fared the worst, as Latino immigrants, many with little education, moved in. The “Service Worker Centers” also saw steep declines, as manufacturing dried up. Leading in growth were the well-educated “Monied Burbs,” where white-collar positions bloomed in office parks. Income in the “Industrial Metropolises” also rose, driven by gentrification and new wealth in inner-ring suburbs.