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3 Shocking Ways Inequality Keeps Getting Worse in America

The richest 1% have gained at least $6.1 trillion in the past five years.
 
 
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Anyone reviewing the data is likely to conclude that there must be some mistake. It doesn't seem possible that one out of twenty American families could each have made a million dollars since Obama became President, while millions American famies' net worth has barely recovered. But the evidence comes from numerous reputable sources.

Some conservatives continue to claim that President Obama is  unfriendly to business, but the facts show that the richest Americans and the biggest businesses have been the biggest beneficiaries of the massive wealth gain over the past five years.

1. $5 Million to Each of the 1%, and $1 Million to Each of the Next 4%

From the end of 2008 to the middle of 2013 total U.S. wealth  increased from $47 trillion to $72 trillion. About $16 trillion of that is financial gain (stocks and other financial instruments).

The richest 1% own about  38 percent of stocks, and half of non-stock financial assets. So they've gained at least $6.1 trillion (38 percent of $16 trillion). That's over $5 million for each of 1.2 million households.

The next richest 4%, based on similar  calculations, gained about $5.1 trillion. That's over a million dollars for each of their 4.8 million households.

The least wealthy 90% in our country own only  11 percent of all stocks excluding pensions (which are fast disappearing). The frantic recent surge in the stock market has largely bypassed these families.

2. Evidence of Our Growing Wealth Inequality

This first fact is nearly ungraspable: In 2009 the average wealth for almost half of American families was  ZERO (their debt exceeded their assets).

In 1983 the families in America's poorer half owned an average of about $15,000. But from 1983 to 1989  median wealth fell from over $70,000 to about $60,000. From 1998 to 2009, fully 80% of American families  LOST wealth. They had to borrow to stay afloat.

It seems the disparity couldn't get much worse, but after the recession it did. According to a  Pew Research Center study, in the first two years of recovery the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%. And then, from 2011 to 2013, the stock market grew by  almost 50 percent, with again the great majority of that gain going to the richest 5%.

Today our wealth gap is worse than that of the third world. Out of all developed and undeveloped countries with at least a quarter-million adults, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of  wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.

3. Congress' Solution: Take from the Poor

Congress has responded by cutting  unemployment benefits and food stamps, along with other 'sequester' targets like Meals on Wheels for seniors and Head Start for preschoolers. The more the super-rich make, the more they seem to believe in the cruel fantasy that the poor are to blame for their own struggles.

President Obama recently  proclaimed that inequality "drives everything I do in this office." Indeed it may, but in the wrong direction.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

 
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