Wealth Inequality Worses: Top 10% Owns Three-Quarters Of Wealth

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Above Photo: From cbo.gov

From 1989 to 2013, family wealth grew at significantly different rates for different segments of the U.S. population, and the distribution among the nation’s families was more unequal in 2013 than it had been in 1989.



In 2013, aggregate family wealth in the United States was $67 trillion (or about four times the nation’s gross domestic product) and the median family (the one at the midpoint of the wealth distribution) held approximately $81,000, CBO estimates. For this analysis, CBO calculated that measure of wealth as a family’s assets minus its debt. CBO measured wealth as marketable wealth, which consists of assets that are easily tradable and that have value even after the death of their owner. Those assets include home equity, other real estate (net of real estate loans), financial securities, bank deposits, defined contribution pension accounts, and business equity. Debt is nonmortgage debt, including credit card debt, auto loans, and student loans, for example.

How Is the Nation’s Wealth Distributed?

In 2013, families in the top 10 percent of the wealth distribution held 76 percent of all family wealth, families in the 51st to the 90th percentiles held 23 percent, and those in the bottom half of the distribution held 1 percent. Average wealth was about $4 million for families in the top 10 percent of the wealth distribution, $316,000 for families in the 51st to 90th percentiles, and $36,000 for families in the 26th to 50th percentiles. On average, families at or below the 25th percentile were $13,000 in debt.

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Data and Supplemental Information

  • DHFabian

    Well, as long as we ignore those on the bottom tier, our truly poor, the situation doesn’t look quite as bad. And we all know that good, hard-working Americans don’t need to fear becoming destitute, homeless, with no way back up. Right?

  • The long-term poor who needed jobs the most in post-Welfare Reform America didn’t/don’t even get chances for the minimum wage McJobs.

    Back in the early 2000’s when the (then new) Walmart was being built in the poor side of a poor Rust Belt town where I live (Erie, PA), the (now former) general manager, Levi Hipp, openly admitted to me and my husband (we were among the first customers that came into the store just to check things out) that the hiring policy was to discard the job applications of the very long-term unemployed people in deep poverty living within walking distance of the store.

    He told us that he was focusing on hiring only those formerly middle class job applicants who previously enjoyed many years of blue-collar middle class employment at companies like Hammermill before they closed. His reason: “Poor people are more likely to steal and don’t want to work.” (Yes, he really said that!)

    I asked Mr. Hipp how he could tell which job applications to flag and discard, and he told me that the background check – which included a credit check – revealed poverty status quite easily: Unpaid utility bills and/or evictions, very long employment gaps, and/or lack of stable employment history, corresponding to per-capita zip code info which matched the zip code of our area (hence, an automatic flag against all the extremely poor job applicants in our area).

    So those in the most need of jobs in post-Welfare Reform America – people from generational poverty, people who never got a chance to gain a toehold onto even the lowest rung of the middle class jobs ladder (due to sex discrimination, mostly) even during the “better times” – were denied chances for even those minimum wage Walmart jobs.

    Nearly all of the people living in that area (the area where I live), which has an 85% poverty rate, who applied for those jobs when that Walmart first opened were DENIED jobs while downwardly mobile middle class job applicants that lived further away in middle class areas got all those jobs. The only exception was a mother and son from a family of Bosnian refugees that were re-settled in our neighborhood – they were the only ones from our area of deep poverty that got hired, and these were people that got far more of a helping hand up than any of America’s local homegrown poor.

    Millions of middle/upper-middle class gatekeepers across America (just like Levi Hipp) have been very open about their deliberate refusal to let the poorest and most disadvantaged job applicants get chances for jobs – even poverty level jobs without health benefits.

    Gatekeepers can afford to be candid and openly classist since crushing the poorest of America’s poor underfoot has been made cool by neoliberal politicians and their middle class voting bloc whom they pander to.

  • In their book, The Bell Curve, Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein advocate concentration camps for the so-called “genetically unintelligent” poor, both black and white.

    Newt Gingrich wrote in his book To Renew America that ‘if you are not prepared to shoulder personal responsibility then you are not prepared to participate in American civilization.’

    Alvin and Heidi Toffler claim that majority rule is an outdated concept and should be replaced by the ‘minority rule’ of those who have the access to society’s resources, regardless of color. (Creating a New Civilization, 1994).

    Consider how many middle/upper-middle class people – including many who are liberals/self-identified “progressives” – read those books and swallowed them hook, line and sinker – just because they wanted to justify getting and keeping their portion of the economic largesse at the expense of poor marginalized people’s most basic human rights per the UN’s UDHR.

  • Roland Petit

    Access to PDF above is denied by Congressional Budget Office server to requester. Must be “top secret” material.