Aug 27, 2014 4:40 PM GMT
Now and again, America puts its inequality on display to the world. We saw it after Hurricane Katrina and we have seen it again in the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. A white police offer shoots dead a black man, after having stopped him for jaywalking. Britain’s police don’t have guns, so these scenes are unthinkable to us. But American-style inequality? We have plenty of that too, we’re just better at hiding it – as I say in my Telegraph column today.
I came across a striking fact while researching this piece: if Britain were to somehow leave the EU and join the US how would we rank? The answer is that we’d be the 2nd-poorest state in the union, poorer than Missouri. Poorer than the much-maligned Kansas and Alabama. Poorer than any state other than Mississippi, and if you take out the south east we’d be poorer than that too.
I’ve been asked (on Twitter) to link to my source, but I’m afraid there’s no study to point to. It’s original research. But it’s also a fairly straightforward calculation. You take the US figures for GDP per state (here), divide it by population (here) to come up with a GDP per capita figure. Then get the equivalent figure for Britain: I used the latest Treasury figures (here) which also chime with the OECD’s (here). A version of this has been done on Wikipedia, but with one flaw: when comparing the wealth of nations, you need to look at how far money goes. This means using a measure called Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). When this is done, the league table looks like the below. I’ve put some other countries in for comparison.
It’s not surprising that America’s best-paid 10 per cent are wealthier than top 10 per cent. That fits our general idea of America: a country where the richest do best while the poorest are left to hang. The figures just don’t support this. As the below chart shows, middle-earning Americans are better-off than Brits. Even lower-income Americans, those at the bottom 20 per cent, are better-off than their British counterparts. The only group actually worse-off are the bottom 5 per cent. Here are the figures:-