The current issue of PS: Political Science and Politics has a symposium on inequality and American democracy, collecting together various responses to the report and book issued on the topic by the American Political Science Association’s taskforce. There’s a lot of valuable commentary and empirical data in there; also well worth reading are the accompanying critical papers on inequality and American governance and inequality and public policy. A lot of meat in there, including the below graph drawn from Larry Bartels’ paper . It shows income growth by income level under Democratic and Republican administrations from 1948 to 2001. The solid line shows how families at the 20th percentile (lowest), the 40th percentile etc have done under Democratic adminstrations, the dotted line how they’ve done under Republicans. The difference is startlingly obvious. Under Democratic administrations, growth has been fairly egalitarian, ranging from 2.6% average growth for the poor at the 20th percentile to 2.1% for the rich at the 95th percentile. Under Republican administrations, the rich have done about as well as under Democratic administrations, but the poor at the 20th percentile have only seen .6% income growth. As Bartels says:
Are partisan differences in the economic fortunes of American families really this stark? The arithmetic calculations from the Census Bureau data are straightforward. Their political significance can only be gainsaid by supposing that the apparent pattern is the result of a massive historical coincidence. Elsewhere, I have provided extensive checks on the robustness of the partisan disparity evident in Figure 2, including comparisons based on alternative economic units, time periods, and income definitions, statistical controls for historical trends, nonparametric tests, and the like ( Bartels 2004 ). It seems hard to escape the conclusion that, over the past half-century, Republican presidents have been consistently bad for the economic health of middle-class and poor people.