Income inequality proliferates across the West

How history, tax policies and gentrification play into wealth inequity.

When John Long established Maryvale, Phoenix’s first suburb, in 1955, the nation’s economic topography was about as flat as the desert valley floor. There were pockets of poverty and enclaves of wealth, but huge disparities — even in those freewheeling Mad Men days — were kept in check by progressive taxes, New Deal-era policies and powerful labor unions. The result was a strong, sizeable middle class hungry for housing. Maryvale provided just that, its modest homes with their all-electric kitchens affordable for everyone from the unionized construction workers who built the homes and the defense industry workers buoyed by Cold War federal spending to the public schoolteachers who taught their children.

But in the 1980s, the nation’s economic Zeitgeist shifted, trickle-
down theory and Reaganomics took hold, corporations outsourced labor, federal spending declined and unions ebbed. CEO pay skyrocketed while working-class wages stagnated. Tax rates for the top income earners gradually fell, allowing them to siphon a greater share of the wealth away from the masses and into their own hands. The middle class eroded, leaving in its place a gaping abyss between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else. Today, the gap is wider than ever before, further exacerbated by pandemic-induced economic woes and Trump-era tax cuts for the rich.

Infographic design: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News
Sources: Economic Policy Institute, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Maricopa County, Statistical Atlas, City of Phoenix, Maricopa Association of Governments, Sentinel Hub, Tax Policy Center, Economic Innovation Group, The Viehman Group, Sotheby’s International Realty, Redfin,, Americans for Tax Fairness, Curbed Seattle.

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High Country News

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Working to inform and inspire people — through in-depth journalism — to act on behalf of the West’s diverse natural and human communities.

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