Last week Quartz asked readers to help solve an American economic mystery: Why is there less income inequality in the US Midwest than in other regions of the country? We received more than 100 comments on the post, on Reddit and on Twitter. About half of the responses contained at least one specific suggestion.
The top suggestion was that there must be some important difference in the mix of industries that are prevalent in the Midwest. The particular industries that were mentioned varied quite a bit. Several readers mentioned the absence of concentration for a high-paying industry like finance, which you’re more likely to find in New York, or software, à la San Francisco. Others brought up the Midwest’s role as a center of manufacturing or agriculture.
The second and third most common suggestions appear to be almost opposites. Some argued that rich people abandon the Midwest as soon as they can. Reasons given included bad weather and fewer elite educational opportunities for their children. Retiree migration to Florida and Arizona was offered as evidence of this behavior. Others believe that Midwestern values predispose people to more egalitarian behavior—that the innate goodness and “we’re all in this together” attitude of Midwesterners in some way draws their incomes closer together.
Beyond the top three suggestions there was an extremely wide range of other ideas related to economics, policy, and diversity. Several of the most specific and interesting suggestions got lumped into the “Other” category, such as this one from the president of the Peterson Institute:
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the responses is how different they all are. The most common idea appeared in only a fifth of all suggestions. What’s more, at least five readers expressed certainty that their idea was correct—but they all proposed different things. The wisdom of our crowd is, it seems, inconclusive.
Perhaps, as economist David Wiczer told Quartz, some “concert of answers” is the best explanation. Until someone sorts it all out, midwesterners can hold fast to the theory that being unswervingly pleasant might make them a little more equal.