U.S. Income Disparity

I and another member of a discussion group disagreed about the widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and everybody else. So I gathered statistics to illustrate the case.

The figures below vary depending on what method the researcher used to derive them, but all show a striking inequality between the wealthy and the rest of us.

“By 2016, the typical American household had a net worth of 14 percent lower than the typical household in 1984, while richest one-tenth of 1 percent owned almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent put together. Income has become almost as unequal as wealth: Between 1972 and 2016 the pay of the typical American worker dropped 2 percent, adjusted for inflation, although the American economy doubled in size. Most of the income gains went to the top. In 2016, the annual Wall Street bonus pool alone was larger than the annual year-round earnings of all 3.3 million Americans working full-time at the federal income minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.” —from The Common Good by Robert Reich, 2018.

According to statistical data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (in September 2016), the richest 1% of the American population had an adjusted gross income of $465,626 or higher for the 2014 tax year. But the Washington Center for Equitable Growth put the average household income for this group at $1,260,508 for 2014. The average income for a middle-class worker in 2014 was around $50,000.

A recent Pew Research Center analysis also found that the wealth gaps between upper-income families and lower- and middle-income families in 2016 were at the highest levels ever recorded. Although the wealth of upper-income families has more than recovered from the losses experienced during the Great Recession of 2008, the wealth of lower- and middle-income families in 2016 was comparable to 1989 levels. Thus, even as the American middle class appears not to be shrinking (for now), it continues to fall further behind upper-income households financially, mirroring the long-running rise in income inequality in the U.S. overall.

The wealthy sometimes explain the disparity in income by insisting that lower-class people are lazy or don’t try hard enough.

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