10 Fun Facts About the Top 1 Percent

As the Occupy Movement has spread like wildfire, we've heard a lot about the top 1 percent of American households and how the “other 99 percent” want a fair share of the fruits of our economic output.

In 2009, there were about 1.4 million households in the top 1 percent. But just who are they? What do they do? Where do they live? 

We tried to answer some of those questions with ten fun facts about the top 1 percent.

1. Majority Are Corporate Big-Wigs, Doctors, Lawyers, and Wall Streeters

Mother Jones offers this handy chart that shows the sectors in which most of the 1% work — note that 4 percent of them are either not working or dead.  


2. You Won't Find Many in Indiana

Gallup compiled the results of 61 of its surveys to create a sample of the top 1 percent — and the other 99 percent — and found that the wealthiest among us skew toward the coasts. Whereas 22 percent of the rest of us live in the Midwest, you'll find only 14 percent of the those households at the top living in “America's Heartland.” 

3. They're More Republican 

Interestingly, those at the top are no more likely to identify themselves as conservatives, or less likely to see themselves as liberals, than the other 99 percent. They aren't more likely to favor forced childbirth or worry about the War on Christmas — social issues — but they know where their bread is buttered (or buttered more heavily), so despite the fact that they don't differ much ideologically, they're significantly more likely to support Republicans.

When you include independents who lean towards one party or another, the top 1 percent skews towards the GOP by a 57–36 margin, compared to the other 99 percent, which leans Democratic, 47–44. 

4. They Make More Than $500K per Year 

As Suzy Khimm notes in the Washington Post, the income cut-off for those households in the top 1 percent was $516,633 last year, down from $646,195 before the crash. But that's the floor — the average income for those in the top 1 percent this year is $1,530,773. (A "household" in this sense can be a single person or a family — it's also known as a "tax unit.")

5. And Have Plenty of Accumulated Wealth

Accumulated wealth is even more skewed towards the top than income, and in 2009, the top 1 percent of households were sitting on an average net worth of almost $14 million, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute. Here's another chart from Mother Jones:

What's more, the other 99 percent have been falling behind. In 2009, the ratio of net worth between those in the top 1 percent and a household right in the middle of the pack was 225-to-1 – the highest on record. In 1962, that figure stood at 125-to-1. Here's a chart showing the shift, courtesy of EPI:

6. They've Taken an Ever-Bigger Piece of the Pie

Between 1949 and 1979, those at the top 1 percent took in 10 percent of our pretax income. In Reagan's final year in office, they grabbed 15.5 percent of the nation's income. 

By the time George W. Bush was elected, they were taking in 21.5 percent. And in 2007, the year before the crash, they were pulling in 23.5 percent of our pretax income, leaving the other 99 percent to share just 76.5 percent of the fruits of America's economic output. 

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.)


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