NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 15, 2006

A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute concludes that Arizona now has the fourth-largest gap between the average income of the poorest 20 percent of its population and its richest 20 percent.

A closer examination of the report, however, reveals something very interesting. This disproportionate income disparity is nearly all a legacy of the 1980s. During the supposed dark ages of the 1990s, things actually improved for the poor in Arizona and there was not a statistically significant increase in the state's income disparity, says Robert Robb of the Arizona Republic.


  • During the 1980s, the real income of Arizona's poorest fifth actually declined. That is, income growth didn't keep pace with inflation. Nationally, the poorest fifth saw a slight increase in their real income of about 2 percent.
  • In the 1990s, however, the real income of Arizona's poorest fifth increased by nearly 17 percent, above the national average of about 16 percent.
  • Moreover, far from ranking at the top in the growth in income inequality, in the 1990s the income gap in Arizona actually grew more slowly than the national average.

This study didn't touch on it, but in Arizona the demographics of the poor are an important consideration. The bottom fifth this study examines in Arizona, for example, is undoubtedly substantially immigrant and substantially illegal.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that illegal immigrants constitute nearly a tenth of Arizona's population. A study by the Center for Immigration Studies a few years ago found that more than 40 percent of Arizona families living in poverty are immigrant-led. A study by the Thunderbird School estimated that 12 percent of Arizona's workforce was illegal.

Source: Robert Robb, "New figures don't lie; The poor fared better when conservatives were in charge," Arizona Republic, February 12, 2006; Jared Bernstein, Elizabeth McNichol and Karen Lyons, "A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends," Center on Budget and Policy Priorities/Economic Policy Institute, January 2006.

For study:


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