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FEATURE NEWS

WORKING HARD BUT
STAYING BEHIND:
Gap between rich and poor in U.S. now bigger than at anytime since 1920's

November 09, 2010




Photo: 32 year old mother of seven. "Migrant Mother", black and white photograph by Dorthea Lange, Nipomo, California, February, 1936. (Library of Congress). CLICK TO ENLARGE
(NATIONAL) -- The following conversation was overheard by a reporter in a Monroe grocery store a few years ago between two men who were standing in line waiting for their items to be checked out.

One man asked the other how things were going. The other man, in a voice dripping with both sarcasm and disgust replied, “Well, I’m workin’ two jobs now just to get by.”

Do you feel like you’re working harder than ever but just treading water? Do you feel as if the “American dream” is slipping away or passing you by?

You’re not alone, according to the numbers.

According to a report earlier this year done by New York University, the top 20% of wealthy individuals in America own about 85% of all the wealth in the country – while the bottom 40% own close to zero and in addition to owning virtually no assets to speak off, many have a “negative” net wealth reality.

The numbers show this current gap between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest is bigger than at any time since the 1920’s — just before the Great Depression hit.

But what is interesting about those numbers, among other things, is that if you question the average American about who has how much wealth in the nation, most are completely unaware of the huge wealth disparity – they are under the assumption wealth is spread much more evenly across class lines - and when questioned again if they want the type of wealth disparity in America that actually exists at the moment, the majority answers no.

In fact, according to a new report in the Los Angeles Times, when Americans are questioned about what they want America too “look like" from a wealth distribution standpoint, they describe something that looks like Sweden, not the U.S.

THE ECONOMIC DISCONNECT

The L.A. Times recently asked a representative sample of more than 5,000 Americans (young and old, men and women, rich and poor, liberal and conservative) to answer two questions.

1.      They first were asked to estimate the current level of wealth inequality in the United States.

2.      Then they were asked about what they saw as an ideal level of wealth inequality.


The results of the questionnaire showed that Americans drastically underestimated the current gap between the very rich and the poor.

The typical person asked that question thought that the top 20% of Americans owned 60% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% owned 10%. They knew that wealth in the United States was not distributed equally – as it is not in most countries – but the respondents were unaware of just how unequal that distribution was.

And here is where it gets even more interesting. When asked to say what their ideal distribution of wealth was, Americans wanted the top 20% to own just over 30% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% to own about 25%.

In other words, they wanted (or expected) the rich to have more money and assets than the poor, but they wanted the disparity in wealth to be much less extreme.

And perhaps even stranger yet there was a consensus among all these Americans – young and old, liberal and conservative, men and women – about what they wanted America to look like in terms of wealth distribution.

What they described was a country that looks like Sweden, not the current America.

While liberals and the poor favored slightly more equal distributions than conservatives and the wealthy, a large majority of every group surveyed — from the poorest to the richest, from the most conservative to the most liberal — said the current level of wealth inequality was too high and they wanted a more equitable distribution of wealth.

You can read the report HERE

Note: The wealth distribution numbers from the analysis by New York University corresponds to data from the U.S. Census that shows the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. is the widest it's ever been, and the highest among all Western industrialized nations.

Three states — New York, Connecticut and Texas — and the District of Columbia had the largest gaps between rich and poor. Big gaps were also evident in large cities such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta, home to both highly paid financial and high-tech jobs as well as clusters of poorer immigrant and minority residents.

Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Hawaii had the smallest income gaps.

In terms of who’s getting the income that’s available out there, the Census numbers show the top 20% of America's highest earners received 49.4% of the country's total income. Those living below the poverty line earned 3.4% of the total income. The ratio is 14.5:1, nearly double the low of 7.69:1 recorded in 1968.

The numbers also show the percentage of Americans falling into the category of poorest of the poor -- those living below the poverty level -- is the highest it's ever been.





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