Inequality in America has become a major talking point in recent years. For many people though, the concept of inequality – the idea that wealth is spread very thinly at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder – is still an abstract concept.

There are over 125 million households in the United States, each with their own unique structure and financial situation, so understanding such a complex issue requires reducing it to proportions we can understand.

Image: Visual Capitalist

American households as a neighborhood

In the visualization above, American households are distilled down into 100 homes, then color-coded into $25,000 income increments.

One house is allocated for those making $300,000 and more per year. On the other end of the scale, we can see that 24 of the households earn $25,000 per year or less, and nearly half of the households have an annual income lower than $50,000.

Here is a more granular breakdown of numbers, this time from a slightly different data source (U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 Household Income Survey):

Households between $35,000 and $100,000 are generally considered middle class. That said, the geographical location of where a household is located also makes a big difference.

The power of place

Not surprisingly, cost of living strongly influences your household’s place on the income spectrum.

In El Paso, Texas, a $50,000 income places a household of four people in the middle class. However, in a more expensive metro area, like San Diego, that same income lands your household in a lower income tier. Here’s a closer look at the cost of typical expenses in the two metros:


Mixed messages

The median household income in the U.S. continues setting new monthly records, and we’ve just seen this decade’s largest year-over-year increase in individual wages.

One side effect of this economic growth is that households in the top wage bracket – the well-appointed yellow square in our visualization – have a tendency to reap outsized rewards. So, for now, as America’s economy trends upward, so does its Gini Coefficient.