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Rising wage inequality, 2003–13

October 08, 2015

Rising wage inequality in recent years has brought increased focus on the disparity between the highest wage earners and the lowest wage earners. From 2003 to 2013, real or inflation-adjusted annual wages for the highest-paid 10 percent of workers (wages at or above the 90th percentile) increased 4.6 percent, while those for the lowest-paid 10 percent decreased 2.2 percent.

Percent change in real or inflation-adjusted annual wages by selected percentiles, 2003–13
Percentile 2003–13 change

10th (lowest 10%)


25th (lowest 25%)


50th (median)


75th (highest 25%)


90th (highest 10%)


Wage inequality varies considerably by metropolitan area. Large metro areas tend to have greater disparity between the highest- and lowest-paid workers, while smaller areas have less disparity. The highest-paid workers in large metro areas also tend to earn more than the highest-paid workers in smaller areas, while the lowest-paid workers earn similar amounts in large and small areas. In 2013, workers in the top 10 percent earned $47.06 per hour in the largest metro areas (those employing a million or more), compared with $34.41 in the smallest areas (less than 100,000 employed). For the lowest-paid 10 percent, hourly wages ranged from $9.07 in the largest areas to $8.57 in the smallest areas.

Average hourly wages for the highest- and the lowest-paid 10 percent of workers by metro area employment size, 2013
Employment 90th percentile 10th percentile

1,000,000 or more

$47.06 $9.07

500,000 to 999,999

42.23 8.76

100,000 to 499,999

37.44 8.67

Less than 100,000

34.41 8.57

These data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics program. To learn more, see “Measuring wage inequality within and across U.S. metropolitan areas, 2003–13,” by J. Chris Cunningham, Monthly Labor Review, September 2015.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Rising wage inequality, 2003–13 on the Internet at (visited August 09, 2020).


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