Looking Ahead to Equality in the U.S.

Product: Population Bulletin, vol. 69, no. 2: The Demography of Inequality in the United States

Date: November 17, 2014

Countries around the world are paying more attention to inequality as an indicator of social and economic well-being.

According to the United Nations, it will not be possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals unless nations first address the “widening gap between skilled and unskilled workers.” The European Union has set a goal to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty by 20 million by 2020. And U.S. mayors of 36 cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, recently pledged to address income inequality.50

Major demographic challenges loom for U.S. policymakers. Racial/ethnic minorities are projected to account for 99 percent of U.S. population growth between 2015 and 2030, and minority youth and young adults will make up a rapidly growing share of students and workers. At the other end of the age distribution is a population of mostly white baby boomers. By 2030, all of the baby boomers will have reached retirement age and will put significant demands on Social Security and Medicare.

Racial/ethnic minorities will play an important role in keeping elderly entitlement programs afloat in the coming decades. If current levels of inequality persist, younger workers and their families will struggle to earn the middle-class wages needed to replace baby boomers in the workforce and fewer funds will flow into Social Security. Reducing disparities—especially by reducing gaps in education—will not only improve economic conditions for millions of lower-income parents and their children, but will also fuel economic growth by creating a well-qualified workforce.

The Backdrop: Rising Inequality
Where Poverty and Inequality Intersect
The Generational Divide
Persistent Racial/Ethnic Gaps
Women Making Progress, But Gaps Remain
Education: The Great Equalizer?
Looking Ahead


50. Erin Carlyle, “American Mayors Pledge to Fight Income Inequality, Low Wages,” Forbes, Aug. 11, 2014.