Above Photo: A large homeless encampment near downtown St. Louis [Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson]
Social inequality in the United States is rapidly reaching unprecedented levels, according to US Census data published Thursday.
The past year saw a staggering transfer of wealth from the bottom 90 percent of the population to the top 10 and top 5 percent. This is the intended result of the bipartisan social counterrevolution intensified by Barack Obama and carried to a fever pitch by Donald Trump, who has slashed corporate taxes and regulations with no opposition from Democrats in Congress.
Census Bureau: Inequality “significantly higher” in 2018 vs. 2017
Over the course of just the last year, the poorest 20 percent of the country—some 65 million people—saw its share of aggregate income decline from 3.11 percent to 3.10 percent. The share of the second poorest quintile declined from 8.4 percent to 8.35 percent, while the third and fourth quintiles, representing those in the 40 to 60 percent and 60 to 80 percent range of incomes, declined from 14.29 to 14.21 and 22.63 to 22.53, respectively.
Only a very narrow section of the population benefited from this income redistribution. The wealthiest 5 percent obtained 96 percent of the income lost by the poorer quintiles, while the next wealthiest 5 percent (the richest 90 to 95th percentile) obtained the remaining 4 percent, meaning that even those in the 80 to 90th percentile saw their income share decline or remain stagnant.
This shifting of decimal points masks the real human impact of inequality on the lives of the entire working class. The new Census data will mean increasing deaths from opioids, alcohol and suicide, higher burdens of medical and student debt and unprecedented levels of work and family stress.
The Census Bureau reported that the national Gini coefficient—a measure of income and wealth distribution in which a value of 0.0 equals total equality and 1.0 equals total inequality—was “significantly higher” in 2018 than in 2017, rising from 0.482 to 0.486, the highest ever.
According to World Bank figures, this makes the US as unequal as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and less equal than Kenya, Mexico and Malaysia.
Worlds apart: The bottom 90 percent and the top 10 percent
The wealthiest 10 percent continued to distance itself from the poorest 90 percent of the population. The income of a household at the 90th percentile was 12.60 times greater than the income of a household at the 10th percentile, up slightly from 12.59 in 2017. The income of a household at the 95th percentile was 9.72 times greater than a household at the 20th percentile and 3.94 times greater than a household at the 50th percentile, compared with 9.62 and 3.86 in 2017.
All of American bourgeois politics is geared toward satisfying the material needs and working out the differences within the various elements of this privileged top 10 percent, whose interests are directly opposed to the great masses of people.
Bourgeois politicians from both parties—who are almost all personally wealthy—are sponsored by corporations and billionaire donors who control the political system. The corporate media sets the tone of political “discourse” and seeks to manipulate popular consciousness to protect the interests of the rich. Practically all discussion of the great social problems that confront the bottom 90 percent of the population are censored and kept out of sight.
The threshold required to reach the 95th percentile grew by $6,000 from 2017 to 2018, rising from $242,812 to $248,782. The percentage of the population making over $200,000 per year also increased substantially, from 8.1 percent in 2017 to 8.5 percent in 2018.
Census data relating to average income by occupation also reflects the increasing separation of the top 10 and bottom 90 percent of the population. Average incomes for chief executives increased from $134,656 in 2017 to $141,457 in 2018, for example, while incomes for lawyers rose from $125,125 to $129,365.
While incomes for many working class occupations rose slightly, the increases were almost always minimal or moderate.
In many cases, incomes for professions that number in the hundreds of thousands of people declined from 2017 to 2018. The average income of a telemarketer declined from $27,551 to $27,160 in the span of just one year. Incomes also fell for logging workers (from $36,091 in 2017 to $35,718 in 2018), roofers ($33,744 to $32,246), tire builders ($45,809 to $42,213), shoe and leather workers ($31,217 to $27,584), air traffic controllers ($91,982 to $79,647), ambulance drivers ($30,563 to $30,149), subway workers ($62,201 to $60,153), aircraft pilots and flight engineers ($110,765 to $110,636), and several other major occupations.
Even among those sections of the working class where incomes have risen slightly, the rising cost of living has greatly impacted the bottom 90 percent of the population.
There are now 10.08 million people who pay over 50 percent of their income on rent, an increase of 163,672 people from 2017 alone. The percentage of people paying over 35 percent of their income on rent rose from 37.5 percent in 2017 to 37.8 percent in 2018, impacting hundreds of thousands more.