The Bitter Fruits of Income Inequality Fueled The Insurrection
According to the common wisdom, the January 6 insurrectionists were average people: “middle-class and, in many cases, middle-aged people without obvious ties to the far right…. 40% are business owners or hold white collar jobs…. the mix of counties from which the arrestees jailed was typical of all American counties.”
This impression has been reinforced by being widely disseminated and cited articles noting that “a surprising number were business owners or white-collar workers,” many with a documented history of financial troubles.
However, that picture is incomplete. It omits income, a crucial variable in determining the insurrectionists’ social status. Income has scarcely been mentioned, although it is available at the zip-code level, based on U.S. Census surveys.
The right-wing populist movement is driven primarily by the anxieties associated with the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial economy.
I looked up the residence of 933 arrestees to find their neighborhood household income, which provides a reasonable estimate of their financial situation. This yields, for the first time, a nuanced picture of the insurrectionists’ socio-economic status. It goes well beyond journalistic shorthand, such as some arrestees being described simply as being a “business owner.” In today’s gig economy that’s hardly a guarantee of financial security.
My findings contradict the view that the insurrectionists were typical of the U.S. population. They surely aren’t poor. They aren’t rich, either.
For one thing, not a single arrestee lives in a neighborhood with an average personal income per person below $15,000, although 8.6% of American households earn less than that amount.
Per capita personal income averaged $38,929 in 2018, the year for which incomes in this article were used. That’s slightly above the arrestee average of $35,625.
Neighborhoods with annual household income between $15,000 and $35,000 are also underrepresented in the sample. Only 36 insurrectionists live in a neighborhood with an annual household income below $20,000, although in a random sample there would have been 230 such people, more than six times as many as were arrested.
This enormous difference is surprising at first. But it makes perfect sense on second thought since poor people would not have had the cash to travel to the Capital city.
Also underrepresented among the insurrectionists are those with estimated annual household incomes above $100,000 although a third of American households earn more than that.
Going further up the income ladder, only 18 insurrectionists live in a neighborhood with annual household income above $150,000. But in a random sample we would expect to find 165 such people. That’s a blatant deviation from a random sample, from what is typical.
In stark contrast, the middle class, those with household incomes between $35,000 and $100,000 are overrepresented among the arrestees by a substantial margin. There are at least 41% more insurrectionists in this income group than this group’s share of U.S. population, while there are 21% fewer than expected among the poor and 20% fewer than expected among the more prosperous segment of American society.
Obviously, the insurrectionists were very far from being a random draw from the US population.
This finding dovetails with the argument that the right-wing populist movement is driven primarily by the anxieties associated with the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial economy.
That includes America’s enormous income inequality, the frustrations caused by globalization for those without a college education, and the financial crisis that bailed out the upper echelons of society without paying much attention to the problems of Mainstreet America. The finding also dovetails with the effect of the high tech digital revolution in downgrading skills as a contributor to the hollowing out of the middle class.
Those who succeeded and prospered in the new Knowledge Economy had no reason to rebel and therefore did not participate in storming the Capitol.
Michael Sandel of Harvard University agrees that “…the election of Trump was an angry verdict on decades of rising inequality and a version of globalization that benefits those at the top but leaves ordinary people feeling disempowered.” Similarly, Princeton Nobelist Angus Deaton, is also supportive of the above argument: “The fundamental problem is unfairness, that the great wealth at the top is seen as ill-gotten in a system that gives no chance to many”
And let us not forget former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who realized presciently years ago the if we don’t reverse “a quarter century of increases in income inequality, the cultural ties that bind our society could become undone. Disaffection, breakdowns of authority, even large-scale violence could ensue, jeopardizing the civility on which growing economies depend.”
The above realization also suggests that only economic policies that can reverse four decades of battering of the middle class could reverse the fundamental discontent in the population.