LIMEW Reports | February 2009

What Are the Long-Term Trends in Intergroup Economic Disparities?

Over the last half century, government policy has had an important hand in alleviating disparities among population subgroups in the United States; for example, special tax treatment for families with children has meant an improvement in the well-being of single mothers, and Medicare and Social Security have been the driving force in improving well-being among the elderly. Thus, the measure of economic well-being used is critical in assessing changes in disparities between groups.

The Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being (LIMEW) is a comprehensive measure that not only includes estimates of public consumption and household production but also factors in the long-run benefits of wealth ownership. In this report, the authors examine long-term trends in economic well-being in the United States between 1959 and 2004 within various population subgroups based on the following household characteristics: race/ethnicity, age, education, and marital status. With the exception of income from wealth, they find that the gap between nonwhite and white households narrowed between 1959 and 2004, and public consumption increasingly favored nonwhites. Relative well-being for those 65 and older improved significantly, and was 9 percent higher than the average nonelderly household in 2000 (a finding at odds with official measures of economic well-being). In contrast, the under-35 age group experienced a sizable deterioration in relative well-being, as did less educated groups relative to college graduates. The gap between families with a single, female head of household and families with a married head of household also widened further over time.

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