Lafayette: One of nation’s most economically polarized places

by Walter Pierce

Yeah, we’re the happiest city in America — for those of us with ready access to the internet and the leisure to take an online poll.

A recent report by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute finds that Lafayette and Lafayette Parish have some of the deepest wealth inequality in the United States based on the ratio of what the area’s top 1 percent earn relative to everyone else.

Overall, Louisiana ranks 16th out of the 50 states in wealth inequality. The state’s one-percenters earn roughly 21 times what everyone else makes (based on 2013 figures) with an annual average income of $860,000 compared to $41,600 for everyone else. Louisiana is also one of just 15 states where the top 1 percent captured all income growth during the Great Recession.

The Lafayette metro area, which includes neighboring parishes, lands at No. 102 on the EPI’s list of 916 metropolitan areas in terms of the 1 percent’s income relative to the 99 percent. The top 1 percent in the Lafayette metro area had an average annual income of $1,003,464 compared to $46,359 for the rest of us, or 21.6 times as much. That’s just outside the Top 10 and slightly behind metro New Orleans, which comes in at 97th on the list with a ratio of 21.8. Surprisingly, the Houma-Thibodaux metro area was tops in Louisiana: 56th out of 916 with top earners pulling in 25.1 times as much as everyone else.

Lafayette Parish fares worse among the nation’s 3,064 counties: 158th, with the top 1 percent earning $1,340,342 to the 99’s $52,417, or 25.6 times as much. (Of course another way of looking at this — call it the glass-half-full perspective — is that Lafayette Parish's 99 percent earn a relatively decent living at $52,417; that's a tick above the national average of $51,939 and far better than the statewide average of $41,600.)

Lafayette is actually fifth among Louisiana parishes on the list of counties nationwide. East Carroll, one of the poorest counties in the U.S., is tops in the Bayou State (56th our of 3,064), not such much because the top earners are raking in the dollars — they’re earning a relatively paltry $960,000 annually — but rather because the average annual income of the 99 percent in East Carroll is an abysmal $25,000 per year.

East Carroll is followed in descending order by Red River, Orleans and Lafourche before we arrive at Lafayette Parish.

To see the full report, click here.