Wealth Inequality in America

Shocking infographics on the distribution of wealth in America, highlighting both the inequality and the difference between our perception of inequality and the actual numbers. The reality is often not what we think it is.

(via Mashable)

25 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Just remember its not quite as “unfair” as it seems visually for 3 main reasons. 1) that 1 out of 100 adds up to 3 million people in the USA. so the wealth is concentrated in a ‘small number’ if people if you consider 3 million small. 2) that top 5 out of 100 is not static: there are different people shuffling in and out of that top 5 from year to year. 3) most of the top 1% are old (probably in the ballpark of 1 in 8 old people are in this 1%). And there are more old people than ever right now. A lot have saved up and will be spending down their wealth for the next 20 years.

  2. Sounds like something a rich person would say ;)

  3. I feel like all of Stan’s points are probably true, but it doesn’t change the message of the video at all. The gaps are still astonishing.

  4. What is the ideal wealth distribution?

    I don’t think that is a valid question. We have an inalienable right to property that extends to the rich and the poor. There is nothing ideal about forcefully redistributing other people’s property.

    Anyone who agrees with this sentiment would have been excluded from the survey results because they wouldn’t answer the question. I suppose most people asked didn’t think about this and just give a “fair” answer.

    I suppose I’m just a wealthy jerk though, sorry about that.

  5. Well, Dan, it’s not about giving the money you’ve earned to other people. It’s about being a huge family. If you’re brothers are making a big buck of money and your unemployed for whatever reason (maybe ill, maybe just got fired) you don’t expect them giving you some of it, but at least you would expect that they payed the bill if going out for dinner altogether.

    Wealth redistribution is about that, that those who have most help just a little bit to those who have less. But right now, all taxes are designed, both in USA and Europe, to “screw” those in the middle class, that have the same taxes than those that earn 100 times more.

    I know that the american dream is based on the basis that each one is responsible for its own “luck”, but i’m sure you would want a more “unfair” (from your point of view) system, if that luck eventually disappeared.

  6. Well, first of all we are not one huge family nor should the wealthy family members be obligated to provide for the poor performers of the family. Secondly, almost 50% of our population is receiving some kinda of government assistance, so they are getting help. The top 1% is providing jobs to the middle class. It’s a free country. People have the right to go out and make something of themselves. In my opinion, that’s a pretty fair system. Some of it is luck, but most if it is down right hard work. “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

  7. The top 1% is not providing anyone jobs, the middle and lower classes are the job providers countries like India and China where the population size allow forthrough their purchasing of goods and thus creating demand and need for workers to meet those demands. If the 1% were “providing” jobs we wouldn’t be watching coporate profits and the dow reaching record highs again while employment for the lower and middle class languishes. Instead the 1% is squeezing that last drops out of the american middle class to fund the moving of their businesses to rely on the growing middle class of developing where they will achieve even greater profits based on population volume even if the profit margins are lower.

  8. Me again, From a world standpoint anyone earning over $48k is in the top 1%.

    $1800/year puts you in the top 20%.(http://www.globalrichlist.com)

    All of us who are in this category are obligated to give. It would be immoral for us not to give, help, give and help. But it is also immoral to decide to take that wealth away from us. It robs us of our property and robs us of the opportunity to give freely.

    All of us (the rich and the poor) are better off than we used to be – the rich are getting richer faster than the poor but comparing yourself to those better off than you is a recipe for sadness and frustration.

    Giving and serving others will bring happiness.

  9. Just the term “wealth distribution” is wrongheaded. Wealth is not distributed in this country, it is earned. It gets redistributed through taxes. People should be more concerned with the great opportunities we have hear and not what they can get by de-incentivizing others. How many jobs were created by that 1%

  10. When I step out of my 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer ES (base model) and I see someone drive by in a Ferrari, I don’t think to myself “That’s so unfair that he gets to drive that, and I’m stuck driving this”. Does this idea apply to message of the video?

  11. Wealth inequality? Sounds like Orwellian double think/speak … very alarming progressive/socialist clap-trap.

  12. Stan did you really just say that 1/8 old person is in the 1%? I think you need to do some research before throwing those numbers around, because they are far from true. Do you really understand the massiveness of the wealth in the 1%?

    And sure, while there are only 3,000,000 in the 1%, its is still the 1%, does the number really matter?

    I think this video puts good information out there to make a more informed decision. There is really no argument to be had right now, they are numbers.

  13. I’m surprised by the reactions here but I guess that’s one of those things where an outsider simply can’t follow the (typical) American ideas about being responsible for your own luck etc.

    The idea that you can get to the top percent through hard work is pretty insane. Sure, some few people are very lucky (and they could’ve failed just as well) but the vast majority of rich are born rich, maybe their grandparents made good business or they were lucky ones but social mobility is very low – how rich your parents are influences your chances to get rich/successful strongly.

    As to the responsibility of the rich: Those who make it themselves (i.e. aren’t born into rich dynasties) always depend on the availability of basic infrastructure and they CAN take the risks because there exists social security. Society offers the chance for people to get absurdly rich with a good idea but also for some to fail with a good idea without it costing their life: we take care of the latter, the former should pay their fair share too.

    btw. Tina, what is your opinion on this? I don’t know if you still vote in Switzerland but we’ve got an initiative on the way that demands that the highest wage in a company is not more than 12 times the minimum wage. Although I’m not sure about the factor 12, I’m looking forward to the public debate about how important it is to have a society without too great inequalities and how much more the time of one person is worth than that of another.

  14. I would suggest Keynesian economics to start learning some thoughts on problems with a small percentage of the population holding most of the wealth. One of the biggest points is that they cannot spend a large enough percentage of the money to make a difference to the economy, as opposed to a larger percentage of the population with the same amount of money.
    Another thing, noted in a TED talk by Richard Wilkinson, is the effect that great inequalities has on a society and their health, education, and success.
    He also does a good job talking about how to reduce inequality, looking at both the Swedish and Japanese for two different routes.

    I, like many people, am all for people being able to have their own money, but when the classes are (aside from rare exceptions) becoming much more static and the middle class is disappearing something needs to change. There is something wrong with one person spending 100,000 dollars on solid gold faucets in their bathroom when 100,000 families in a city are reliant on government assistance in order to survive. Get that taken care of and then we can talk about people’s freedoms with their own money.

  15. Joe, not as many jobs are created by the 1%’s dollars as the same total amount of money given to a larger population. For example, 1 man (or family) is going to have a hell of a tim spending 80 million dollars. It’s almost impossible. But give 1000 dollars to 80 million people and they will spend almost all of it, in their communities, so it then goes to more people in their jobs and so on.

    I am not for taking all of someone’s money, but there exists a third side to this argument, a third option on how to solve things. It’s about time we all started exploring that.

  16. Good info, but here are some more facts to consider.
    According to a new report released by the Congressional Budget Office taxes for the rich are at a 30 year high. Don’t read or hear much about that in the media, do we! The top 20% pay an average 27.2% of their income in Fed taxes. The top 1%, incomes over $1.4M (the average pro athlete) pay 35.5% of their income in Fed taxes. The average family in the the bottom 20% pay no Fed taxes and many get payments from allowed credits. Pres. Obama and the Dems need to get off the class warfare bandwagon. And the Repubs need to do focus on sustaining viable programs that will continue to serve as a safety net for those in need in future generations. How about we get back the the historically tried and true practice that families are primarily responsible for helping each other, then community steps up and volunteers and finally, when all that isn’t enough, that the government steps in…instead of the reverse order, which has become common practice. The current approach is unsustainable and both parties k now it…if they are honest. Too bad the media in general looks for the emotional story rather than the reality. That is not what they taught us at the UW, post Woodward and Bernstein. They said “never trust the man, look deeper.” Now we are “the man” and too often he has no cloths.

  17. “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
    -John Steinbeck

  18. although this isn’t the clearest of charts, its trying to highlight something thats become very obvious to Americans in the last few years.

    The question is, will America learn from the civilisations of the past? Many ancient empires regularly cancelled the debt and reset everyone back to zero. This is what kept the Egyptians going for 7000 years, 7000 years! Thats a very very long time to told things together. The ancient Roman empire collapsed after just 2000 years because they made a choice to enforce debt. If people couldn’t pay, they were murdered. That was a key turning point. America is 237 years down this road.

    So the other question is, capitalism only works if you are at the very top, and everyone else suffers as a result. The promise is that the pursuit of wealth is meant to make us happy, but anyone who reads Donald Trumps Twitter feed knows that all the money on the earth won’t make some people happy. there are other ways of organising civilisations that humans have yet to explore that don’t place money at the centre, that don’t require money to be more important than absolutely everything else. So can we move on from capitalism now we know it doesn’t work?

  19. Does anyone know how this video was made? I mean with which tools/software/programming language.

  20. I was startled to see just how off I was about the disparity. I am not overly optimistic in the first place, and I have studied a lot about developing world economics and what-not, so for me to be that far off on the US’s wealth spread was a shock. Thanks for sharing it; this one gave me pause to be sure.

  21. 1) First rule of statistics: association is not necessarily an indication of causality. Are people not investing because they are poor (as the video purports), or are they poor because they are not investing? How do the “rags to riches” in this country exist at all if the first assumption holds true?

    2) Anybody who believes that money is the problem — namely that increased taxation on ANY class will improve the situation for all — should study education spending over the last 40 years in the US. Up more than 1000% (adjusted for inflation), and lower scores and competitiveness internationally than ever. Money is not the problem. Taxation is not the solution.

    3) Dan (above) is dead on. Regardless of what WOULD solve the problem, it is immoral and corrupt to believe that a valid or proper solution would be to take my God-given right to property, life, or industry simply because of my financial advantage (or any other kind of superiority) over another. I give well over 10% of my personal income in charitable donations annually — each and every year. That is ABOVE AND BEYOND the amount which I am annually taxed by the government. That is my duty, as well as my choice. But you have no right to force me (or anyone else) to give anything, let alone to give more than an already substantial offering such as mine. You have EVERY right to give as you see fit from your own resources.

    Mind. Your. Own. Business.

    Give as you see fit.

    Champion the generosity of others.

    Judge not, lest ye be judged.

  22. What is the ideal wealth distribution?

  23. I think the union and the labour laws in the US is part of the problem. There is no one that can say – hey we the people who runs this company demands fair compensation in relation to the value we are putting into the company.

    If the employees of a company had some say instead of being considered replaceable units I think wealth distribution could at least be fixed. Problem is I guess the anti union bashing going on and the historically corrupt unions that did more harm than good. So people are afraid of actually demanding a bit more of the cake.

    Then again if the US wasn’t so afraid of paying taxes and would spend less on the military than maybe the crumbling infrastructure could be fixed, social mobility could be fixed and that gigantic debt could be paid off…

  24. Read: The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government
    Other modern countries, capitalist, democratic countries, have much better balance between the extremes. The bell curve is very much massed in the center with little to no poor and little to no super rich. Most people live middle or upper middle class lives. These economies, like Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, do quite well and people are quite free and happy and there is no gun problem, less crime, and no lack of healthcare either. Are they “perfect”? No way! But poverty is kept to a minimum.
    The U.S. economic model was like this or at least headed that way after WWII, until Republicans (and many Democrats too) misunderstood some key comments by Reagan about government over reach. He never wanted to eliminate government, just have better oversight and less waste. (Who would be against that?) But his, Clinton, and legislative first blows were with blunt and indelicate instruments and, instead of adapting to something more precise later – the cree with the right has been that of continued brutal ax cuts to everything (TAX cuts as they like to say) and leaving only welfare entitlements to companies that support them (oil, gas, mining, etc.) and the rich and ultra rich. This 30 year side trip has only eroded the U.S. socially and economically. As a capitalist, this oversimplification by those on the right, drives me crazy.