Last night while mulling over World Bank and census.gov data, trying to make some sense of our perceived poverty and the growing income inequalities as illustrated so nicely this month in Mother Jones, I had a thought: What if we separate America into Poor America and Rich America with the cutoff at the 80th percentile of income? (I chose 80th percentile since that's the dividing line on the Mother Jones charts where stagnation occurs below and growth has been occurring above, for better or worse. I also chose it because I'll be comfortably above that line.) Let's run with this idea a bit: How do the demographics of these two "nations" differ? Clearly they differ in income, so that's not the crux of the matter: We also know that Rich America's incomes are growing rapidly while Poor America remains stagnant. Although the dividing line is at the 80th percentile, what percentage of population lies in each group? How old are these people? What do they do? What's the size of each nation's tax base? I know many relatively rich, right-wingers who like to whinge about the tax system being overly progressive, but is Poor America's tax base enough to cover its proportion of services of the combined nations? What about educational attainment, teenage pregnancy, health outcomes? If we view these things as cultural values that Poor America continues to cling to rather than dismissing them as mere sequela of socioeconomic status can we come to any conclusions? How much immigration is there between Poor America and Rich America? In other words, how much relative economic mobility is there between the lower four quintiles and the top quintile? Also on the topic, does one live in such a nation by virtue of birthright, akin to how citizenship works in most countries? How are unemployment and disability rates in each nation--how many of the now-unemployed were living in Poor America beforehand and how many did not pass Go and went straight from Rich America to the unemployment line? How do these countries fare on the world scale if we consider them alone? (I know there's that map out there that compares states' gross state product to various world countries' GDP.) Is Poor America the size of, say, Canada, and Rich America the size of Japan? Clearly, at some level this view falls apart: services are shared, the labor of one "nation" almost entirely goes to benefit those who live in the other, and Poor America is burdened with a legion of elderly people who, lacking savings, plop themselves on the public dole once they become eligible for SS and Medicare. On the other hand, Poor America probably has a demographic advantage (the flip side of Japan's problem) with an overrepresentation of young, fertile, but poor immigrant families. Finally, does this thought exercise clarify anything? I'm not certain of the answers to any of these questions, although I think I know the answers to some of them. Will my stereotypes bear witness to reality? Stay tuned over the next several days as I try to sift through data and figure out some answers.