December 29, 2013
Anyone reviewing the data is likely to conclude that there must be
some mistake. It doesn't seem possible that one out of twenty American
families could each have made a million dollars since Obama became
President, while millions American famies' net worth has barely
recovered. But the evidence comes from numerous reputable sources.
Some conservatives continue to claim that President Obama is unfriendly to business
but the facts show that the richest Americans and the biggest
businesses have been the biggest beneficiaries of the massive wealth
gain over the past five years.
1. $5 Million to Each of the 1%, and $1 Million to Each of the Next 4%
From the end of 2008 to the middle of 2013 total U.S. wealth increased
from $47 trillion to $72 trillion. About $16 trillion of that is financial gain (stocks and other financial instruments).
The richest 1% own about 38 percent
stocks, and half of non-stock financial assets. So they've gained at
least $6.1 trillion (38 percent of $16 trillion). That's over $5 million
for each of 1.2 million households.
The next richest 4%, based on similar calculations
, gained about $5.1 trillion. That's over a million dollars for each of their 4.8 million households.
The least wealthy 90% in our country own only 11 percent
all stocks excluding pensions (which are fast disappearing). The
frantic recent surge in the stock market has largely bypassed these
2. Evidence of Our Growing Wealth Inequality
This first fact is nearly ungraspable: In 2009 the average wealth for almost half of American families was ZERO
(their debt exceeded their assets).
In 1983 the families in America's poorer half owned an average of about $15,000
. But from 1983 to 1989 median wealth
fell from over $70,000 to about $60,000
. From 1998 to 2009, fully 80% of American families LOST wealth
. They had to borrow to stay afloat.
It seems the disparity couldn't get much worse, but after the recession it did. According to a Pew Research Center
in the first two years of recovery the mean net worth of households in
the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while
the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%. And
then, from 2011 to 2013, the stock market grew by almost 50 percent
, with again the great majority of that gain going to the richest 5%.
Today our wealth gap is worse than that of the third world. Out of
all developed and undeveloped countries with at least a quarter-million
adults, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality
in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.
3. Congress' Solution: Take from the Poor
Congress has responded by cutting unemployment benefits
and food stamps
along with other 'sequester' targets like Meals on Wheels for seniors
and Head Start for preschoolers. The more the super-rich make, the more
they seem to believe in the cruel fantasy that the poor are to blame for
their own struggles.
President Obama recently proclaimed
that inequality "drives everything I do in this office." Indeed it may, but in the wrong direction.
Paul Buchheit is a college
teacher, a writer for progressive publications, and the founder and
developer of social justice and educational websites
(UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org).
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