In a map measuring the Gini coefficient of income inequality across the country, Rappahannock County pops off the page. Its familiar geographic silhouette is painted in the richest or darkest (depending how you look at it) hues — showing the county to have among the highest Gini in the whole state of Virginia.
The Gini coefficient – also known as the Gini index or Gini ratio – was developed a century ago by the Italian statistician Corrado Gini as a way to measure inequality in frequency of distribution. Because it measures relative differences rather than absolute numbers, economists and other social scientists consider it perhaps the best way to measure income inequality.
Such inequality is much in the news lately – from chants of “We are the 99 percent” to charges of engaging in “the politics of envy and class warfare.” Ideological interpretations aside, the historical facts show a measurable correlation between spiking income inequality and corroding societal trust.
In recent years here in the United States, the Gini coefficient has registered the most income inequality since the Great Depression. (The lowest measure was in 1968.) The United States is now ranked with South Africia, Columbia, Mexico, China, and Brazil as among the highest in the world. The lowest are in Europe.
Rappahannock County’s high Gini scores shouldn’t be too surprising really, when the Rappahannock News each week shows ads for multimillion-dollar estates, on one page, and reports on donations to the Food Pantry, on another page.
It is precisely in this juxtaposition where, paradoxically, good news – at least locally – can be found. According to the newest book by Charles Murray (best known as co-author of “The Bell Curve,” about racial differences in intelligence), white America is coming apart at the seams. Indeed, that’s the title: “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” Racial divisions have been replaced by an unprecedented cultural segregation driven by wealth and education. The powerful new upper class increasingly live in isolated bubbles surrounded by their own kind and ignorant of what’s really happening in mainstream America.
Say what you will about Rappahannock County, however, we have no gated communities here. Given the rural lifestyle, we all still know what physical labor is. And whether retired bankers or blue-collar commuters, we all pump our own gas at the same service stations.
And we greet one another and mean it when we say: “Hey! Good to see you. How you doin’?”