The One Percent

What Does One Percent of Wealth Look Like?

Just how rich are the rich? By comparison, how are the rest of us doing?

It is not just that some people are richer than others. An important promise of the USA, capitalism and the democratic system is that it is possible for virtually anyone to achieve at least a comfortable life style if not great wealth. The problem is that there are many people in this country who are below the 2013 Federal Poverty Guidelines (around 15%). There is little question that the rich are getting richer and the number of people just living from paycheck to paycheck are increasing. There is nothing in sight that will change this trend. The “American Dream” has become more theoretical than fact.

The standard claim is that 1% of the population in the USA holds the majority of the wealth. It is difficult to visualize what this means. The Infographics video on the distribution of wealth in America, Wealth Inequality in America, highlights the inequality and difference between the perception of inequality and the actual numbers.

Examination of the two charts from the video provides a sense of the distribution of wealth.

distribution-of-wealth1The curve indicating increased wealth sharply turns up at the 90% mark so that the top 10% could not be shown on the graph without tacking it on (in front of the curve. However, the top 1% is so much greater that the single green column had to be “wrapped” in the illustration many times. Wealth of the poor does not amount to enough to show on this scale.distribution-of-wealth2

Surveys indicate people think there is some inequity, but what they thought would be fair is way off from reality.

The distribution of wealth in the USA bears a strong resemblance to the days of dukes, fiefdoms and surfs. Yes, that is essentially what “Trickle Down Economics” is, but it is not a healthy condition for the USA. At some point, one must assume that a threshold will be crossed, beyond which the system will no longer function.


It’s the Inequality, Stupid, by Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot, Mother Jones, March/April 2011 Issue

Wealth Inequality, Dan Ariely, September 30, 2010

How Unequal We Are: The Top 5 Facts You Should Know About The Wealthiest One Percent Of Americans, by Zaid Jilani, Think Progress Economy, October 3, 2011

CEO pay is 380 times average worker’s – AFL-CIO, by Jennifer Liberto, CNN Money April 19, 2012