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10 Fun Facts About the Top 1 Percent

They're highly educated, skew Republican, and look up at the top tenth of the top 1 percent with envy.

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7. But Have Half the Federal Income Tax Rate Compared to 1980

I have written before that federal income taxes only account for a bout a fifth of the taxes paid in this country, so we shouldn't confuse them with “taxes” in general. Federal income taxes are among the most progressive, meaning that the more you earn, the more you pay.

Nevertheless, because of years of tax cuts targeted at the top — notably the Bush cuts for high earners — the top 1 percent of American households are paying about half the rate that they had to pay in 1980.

8. It's the Top of the Top 1 Percent Making the Real Killing 

"We are the 99 percent" fits nicely on bumpersticker — far better than "We are the 99.9 percent." But while the top 1 percent has doubled its share of income over the last 30 years, the top tenth of the top 1 percent have made a real killing. In 1980, this rarified bunch took in 3.4 percent of the nation's income. By 2007, the year before the crash, they were grabbing over 12 percent. Their average incomes, adjusted for inflation to 2008 dollars, had risen from $1.4 million to $7.4 million during the same period.

Then there's a tiny group of households in the top 100th of the top 1 percent — just a few hundred families. Their share of the nation's income increased from 1.3 percent in 1980 (an average of $5.4 million in 2008 dollars) to 6 percent in 2007 ($36.4 million).

To put that in perspective, the average income of the bottom 90 percent had barely budged. In 1980, they earned $30,941, and in 2007 — almost 30 years later — they took in $33,666.

9. They Don't Have Crushing Debt Loads

Unfortunately, the data on households with high debt-loads — defined as debt equalling at least 40 percent of income — isn't available for the top 1 percent. But according to EPI, in 2007 fewer than one in 25 of households in the top 10 percent of the distribution had a high debt load, compared to more than one in six households in the bottom 90 percent.

10. Education Is the Big Divide

According to Gallup, educational attainment is “the greatest difference between the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and everyone else. The Gallup analysis reveals that 72 percent of the wealthiest Americans have a college degree, compared with 31 percent of those in the lower 99 percentiles. Furthermore, nearly half of those in the wealthiest group have postgraduate education, versus 16 percent of all others.” (It's likely that those in the upper reaches of the "99 percent also tend to be educated, but Gallup doesn't break this down further.)


Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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