The Debt Dialogues [Episode 30]: Phil Birnbaum on Making Sense of Inequality Statistics

The Debt Dialogues is a weekly podcast that aims to educate young people about the welfare state and how it will affect their future. In past interviews, we have talked to experts on the research concerning inequality. In this episode, I interview statistician Phil Birnbaum on how to interpret the economic inequality statistics we hear reported in the news each day. Topics covered include:

  • What questions a layman should ask when encountering statistical claims about inequality.
  • The critical importance of remembering that what is happening to groups such as “the top 10 percent” or “bottom ten percent” tells us nothing about what is happening to real life individuals over time.
  • How the share of income going to the top 10 percent can increase — even if everyone is getting better off.
  • The impossibility of identifying the “right” level of inequality.

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Image: Bruce Rolff via