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Rich-Poor Income Gap Widest in Republican-Leaning States

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March 9 (Bloomberg) -- Income inequality in the U.S. is most prevalent across a large swath of counties ranging from the Deep South to the Appalachian Mountains, according to a Census Bureau report released yesterday.

Six of the 10 counties with the highest income disparity were in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi, all states with Republican governors that usually back the party’s presidential candidates.

The report, covering the years 2006-2010, highlights the paradox of the wealth gap as a political issue between voters in so-called red states that tend to vote Republican and blue states that lean Democratic. A 2007 study found that while inequality is more evident in poor states such as Mississippi, voters there largely favor Republican candidates. In wealthier states, they’re more likely to back the other major party.

“In a Democratic state like New York, rich people are a little more conservative than the poor people, but they’re socially liberal,” Andrew Gelman, a Columbia University political scientist and statistician who led that study, said in a telephone interview. “In a state like Texas, the rich aren’t really that conflicted.”

Still, the gap was also pronounced in large urban areas such as New York County, or Manhattan, which had the highest level of income disparity of any major population center in the U.S. and was third overall. The inequality wasn’t as evident in the Midwest and was least pronounced in less-populous areas such as Loving County, Texas, and fast-growing suburbs like Kendall County, Illinois, near Chicago.

Inequality Tapering Off

More than one-third of Americans live in counties that rank among the highest for income inequality, the Census Bureau said.

The bureau said income inequality has risen 18 percent since 1967, with half the growth occurring during the 1980s. It climbed every year between 1998 and 2006 before dropping the following year, and has been rising since.

“More recently, the growth in income inequality has tapered off,” Adam Bee, the author, wrote in the report, based on data from the American Community Survey, an annual poll of 3 million households that collects demographic, social and economic information.

The annual survey uses a so-called Gini coefficient to measure income inequality within any geographical region. A Gini of 0 indicates complete equality, where all households have the same amount of income; a Gini of 1 means one household has all the income. The index ranged from 0.207 in Loving County to 0.645 in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana.

Nationwide, the Gini index in 2010 was 0.467. The median Gini for U.S. counties was 0.43. New York County, home to the nation’s largest city, had a Gini of 0.601, slightly less than that of Nicaragua.

The nation’s three most-populous counties -- Los Angeles County, Cook County, Illinois, and Harris County, Texas -- were also among the highest urban areas in income inequality.

To contact the reporter on this story: Frank Bass in New York at fbass1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark McQuillan in Washington at mmcquillan@bloomberg.net.

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