Just How Unequal is the U.S.? We Have No Idea
by The Opportunity Agenda, Tue Sep 28, 2010 at 02:25:21 PM EDT
The last three and a half decades have seen a disturbing increase in inequality in the U.S. The wealthiest Americans have made significant income and wealth gains, while the rest of us have treaded water at best. And yet, as our national dream of economic security and mobility dies, we don’t even care enough to offer a eulogy. As Willy Loman’s wife reminded us, “Attention must be paid.”
In recent research (PDF) by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely, a sample of randomly selected Americans believed that the middle-earning 20% of Americans control almost 15% of wealth. The reality is less than 5%. The same sample believed that the wealthiest 20% of Americans controlled almost 60% of wealth. The reality is nearly 85%. And, the same sample believed that the poorest 40% of Americans controlled nearly 10% of the wealth. The reality is less than a third of one percent. Let me put that another way. The roughly 1.3 million richest Americans have 315 times as much wealth as the roughly 1.3 million poorest, and as a nation, we either don’t know or don’t care.
The recession will end (or has ended, by official measures), eventually. Job growth will happen, eventually. The question is, do we care enough to make sure that our new economic growth model brings real benefits to all of us, or are we content to let it build upon existing, and growing, inequality?
Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.