Pulling Apart in Pennsylvania: The Incomes of Pennsylvania Families Since the 1970s

Howard Wial
Publication Date: 
July 1, 1998

This briefing paper documents both bright and dark sides to the economic fortunes of Pennsylvania families since the 1970s. The bright side is that Pennsylvania is a relatively prosperous state and the fruits of its prosperity are slightly more equally distributed than in the United States as a whole. The dark side is that, during two decades of rising inequality across the nation, family income inequality has grown more in Pennsylvania than in all but a handful of states. It is by now old news that Pennsylvania’s working families were devastated from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. This briefing paper shows that the period since the middle 1980s has not treated poor and middle-income families much better. Only affluent Pennsylvania families are benefiting substantially from the state’s prolonged economic “recovery.”

It is imperative that state policy focus now on how to create economic growth that benefits all Pennsylvania families. If we don’t confront this task with official unemployment below 5 percent and into our seventh year of economic expansion, when will we? This paper proposes that Pennsylvania raise its minimum wage and make its tax system fairer to low- and middleincome families. It also proposes that Governor Ridge organize a summit on rising inequality and that the state legislature establish a permanent Pennsylvania commission on growth with equity.