Presenting The Findings Of The Working Group On Extreme American Inequality

Tyler Durden's picture

America has long had a working group on financial markets (whose sole purpose some suggest is to keep stocks from plunging in times of turbulence), so why not have a working group on that other much more critical phenomenon of US society: a trend of unprecedented unequal wealth distribution, which can be summarized as simply as pointing out that 1% of US society holds more wealth (or 33.8% of total), than 90% of the remaining portion of America (26.0%), and also is in possession of more than half of all stocks, bonds and mutual fund holdings in the US. Well, there is, even if is not formally recognized, and made up of the same distinguished professionals as the PPT (Geithner, Bernanke, Gensler and Schapiro). Hereby we present some of the key findings of the Working Group on Extreme Inequality.

  • Percentage of U.S. total income in 1976 that went to the top 1% of American households: 8.9.
    • Percentage in 2007: 23.5.
  • Only other year since 1913 that the top 1 percent’s share was that high: 1928.
  • Combined net worth of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans in 2007: $1.5 trillion.
  • Combined net worth of the poorest 50% of American households: $1.6 trillion.
  • U.S. minimum wage, per hour: $7.25.
  • Hourly pay of Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, for an 80-hour week: $27,034.74.
  • Average hourly wage in 1972, adjusted for inflation: $20.06
    • In 2008: $18.52.

A look at income data:

Median household income in 2008 was $50,303, according to Census data. Half of American households had income greater than this figure, half had less.

Between the end of World War II and the late 1970s, incomes in the United States were becoming more equal. In other words, incomes at the bottom were rising faster than those at the top. Since the late 1970s, this trend has reversed.

For example, data from tax returns show that the top 1% of households received 8.9% of all pre-tax income in 1976. In 2007, the top 1% share had more than doubled to 23.5%.

There is reason to suspect that this level of income inequality is dangerous to our economy. The only other year since 1913 that the wealthy claimed such a large share of national income was 1928, when the top 1% share was 23.9%. The following year, the stock market crashed, which led to the Great Depression. After peaking again in 2007, the U.S. stock market crashed in 2008, leading to what some are now calling the “Great Recession.”

Between 1979 and 2008, the top 5% of American families saw their real incomes increase 73%, according to Census data. Over the same period, the lowest-income fifth saw a decrease in real income of 4.1%.

In 1980, the average income of the top 5% of families was 10.9 times as large as the average income of the bottom 20 percent, according to Census data. In 2008, the ratio was 20.6 times.

The current recession has hit incomes hard across the board. Median household income declined 3.6% in 2008, the largest single-year decline on record. Adjusting for inflation, incomes reached their lowest point since 1997. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of Census data).

Wealth Facts

Wealth is equivalent to “net worth,” which is equal to your assets minus your liabilities.

Examples of assets include checking and savings accounts, vehicles, a home that you own, mutual funds, stocks and bonds, real estate, and retirement accounts.

Examples of liabilities include a car loan, credit card balance, student loan, personal loan, mortgage, and other bills you still need to pay.

Median net worth in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available, was $120,300. Half of American households had net worth greater than this figure, half had less.

Net worth is even more unequal than income in the United States.

In 2007, the latest year for which figures are available from the Federal Reserve Board, the richest 1% of U.S. households owned 33.8% of the nation’s private wealth. That’s more than the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent.

The top 1% also own 50.9% of all stocks, bonds, and mutual fund assets.

Retirement accounts like 401(k)s are more equally distributed. The top 1% owns only 14.5% of all retirement account assets, while the bottom 90% owns 40.5%.

The total inflation-adjusted net worth of the Forbes 400 rose from $502 billion in 1995 to $1.6 trillion in 2007 before dropping back to $1.3 trillion in 2009.

Net Worth is highly unequal when it comes to race. In 2004, the latest year for which Federal Reserve figures are available, the typical white household had a net worth about seven times as large as the typical African American or Hispanic household.

Since the 1980s, Americans have spent more and more of their income on expenses, leaving less for savings. The U.S. Personal Savings Rate declined from 10.9 percent in 1982 to 1.4 percent in 2005 before rising to 2.7 percent by 2008.

Facts on CEO Pay:

From 2006 through 2008, the top five executives at the 20 banks that have accepted the most federal bailout dollars since the meltdown averaged $32 million each in personal compensation. One hundred average U.S. workers would have to work over 1,000 years to make as much as these 100 executives made in three years. (Institute for Policy Studies, Executive Excess 2009)

Since January 1, 2008, the top 20 financial industry recipients of bailout aid have together laid off more than 160,000 employees. In 2008, the 20 CEOs at these firms each averaged $13.8 million, for a collective total of over a quarter-billion dollars in compensation. (Institute for Policy Studies, Executive Excess 2009)

These Top 20 Financial Bailout CEOs averaged 85 times more pay than the regulators who direct the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. These two agencies, many analysts agree, have largely lacked the experienced and committed staff they need to protect average Americans from financial industry recklessness. (Institute for Policy Studies, Executive Excess 2009)

And lastly, wage facts:

Between 1972 and 1993, the average hourly wage dropped from $20.06 to
$16.82 in 2008 dollars.
Since 1993, the average hourly wage has regained
only a part of the ground lost, rising to $18.52. Adjusted for
inflation, the average wage in 2008 was still lower than it was in 1979.

So now that we know that the US middle class is making less than it did in 1970 in real terms, that the uber-rich control the majority of America's wealth, and control more net income that 90% of society, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer (and in general all of society is starting to read like a skewed non-Gaussian distribution curve comparable to something one would find in a Taleb novel), it is more than clear that the US middle class is now on the endangered species list. And while the slow by sure decline of that social buffer that has kept the civil peace within American society for so many years is a fact, it is no surprise that pundits like Jim O'Neill is suggesting to forget the historical driver of 70% of US GDP (and 30% of the world's), and focus on those up and coming societies whose middle class still has at least a fighting chance.

Full working group presentation

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spekulatn's picture

Plunging bitchez.

prophet's picture

poor bitches


The poor are less poor, there are just more of them?

Goldenballs's picture

The richest nation in the world,with a shrinking middle class and growing lower and under class."Robbed" isn,t in it,time for some serious shit is nigh.

MarketTruth's picture

This may be pertinent:

"In the absence of a gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value. If there were, the government would have to make its holding illegal, as was done in the case of gold. If everyone decided, for example, to convert all his bank deposits to silver or copper or any other good and thereafter decline to accept checks as payment for goods, bank deposits would lose their purchasing power and government-created bank credit would be worthless as claims on goods. The financial policy of the welfare state requires that there be no way for the owners of wealth to be able to protect themselves.

This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists' tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists' antagonism toward the gold standard." -- Alan Greenspan, 'Gold and Economic Freedom' in 1966.

Spitzer's picture

Damon Vickers of 9 Points Capital partners was laughing at the prospects of the USD again, this time on CBC Canada. " I don't think the US dollar or any western currency is  long for this world"

Thomas's picture

Two reasonable individuals could discuss the imminence or lack thereof of peak oil, but that pair would not include this character. He hasn't a clue, as evidenced by his argument that oil spewing into the Gulf is evidence that we have gobs of oil. If I were to walk around the street and there was not a dollar in sight, would that imply that they were rare and, thus, would strengthen?

Spitzer's picture

that interview was cut short.

He lost money on oil over the last year and he admitted it. He used to believe in the oil story.

RingToneDeaf's picture

"We are Doomed!," Mighty Mogambo Guru said so clearly.

Guillotine is coming to town, coming to town,

Guillotine is coming to town, for you!

Dr. Sandi's picture

Talk about getting cut short!

anony's picture

If ever the american electorate wake up to the fact that geoge carlin was right, "the boys in the club don't give a fuck about you!", maybe they'll move to uncivil disobedience, but another brain said, "Let them have the the right to free speech for as long as the people can speak of liberty, they will do nothing to defend it".

prophet's picture

TD:  What is your read on the dumb money you refer to in 

"Confirming "Dumb Money's" Resilience To The Wall Street Siren Song"

being the top one percent who own fifty percent of the muts or the other ninety-nine percent of the people?


Boilermaker's picture

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but, wasn't the last time wealth disparity was at this extreme right before the Great Depression?



Correct, and right before the French guillotine party, too.

Bearster's picture

This, and other similar articles misses an important distinction:

 - rising productivity; since the bottom 30% or so doesn't produce anything, this will skew towards the top of society... those who work hardest and smartest

 - ponzi, inflation, legalized cartels (think S&P, Moodys, Fitch), litigation, and all of the other mechanisms by which government takes from everyone and gives to the politically-connected.

The error here is just like that in "GDP".  GDP adds wealth-creating activities like production with wealth-destroying activities like government spending.

Dr. Sandi's picture

- rising productivity; since the bottom 30% or so doesn't produce anything, this will skew towards the top of society... those who work hardest and smartest

Give us a fucking break. Horatio Alger was killed and eaten by bankers while he was buying a westbound railroad ticket.

Bartanist's picture

Lol ... rising productivity has nothing to do with people who work hardest and smartist. That is an elitist claptrap. It has to do with the lack of manufacturing. If you buy/import EVERYTHING and resell it, then you have essentially infinite productivity because there is no labor in making it.

All money creation without commensurate value creation is inflationary. The entire "club" at the top who create money out of thin air and hand it to each other as if it is candy are the greatest detroyers of wealth in America.

I grew up believing that I lived in a beautiful, free, democratic country with a free market and equal opportunity for all and have come to learn that it is a military fascist empire run by the fiat money makers and that they have enslaved the rest of the world as well as their own people in debt.

The idea whose time has come is that there will be a reversion to the mean one way or another. IMHO, it is unavoidable and MY GUESS is this time our continent will not be spared the ravages of war and there will be no need to create more false flag events.

And maybe they want it. Just as the theft of gold from under building 7 was hidden by its demolition, the crimes of the past will be buried under war.

Blankman's picture

Agreed, however why can't world war three be playing out as we speak.  This time its an economic war, not a war of the masses.  There is far too much communication through internet, cell phones, air travel for people to believe the shit they used to tell us in order to wage war (however some still do, it is sad when one can not think for ones self).  


Take a look at the countries the US goes to "war" against in the past 40 odd years, what do they all have in common: 

1. Minimal Threats

2. Oil

3. The centralized banking systems in these countries are not run by the elites.  Next target Iran - Islamic centralized banking system.

     If only Ahmadinejad would accept the IMF's bribe money, I mean help, i mean bullying Iran would be a heaven on earth.  At least this is how it is supposed to work.  One by one all of the countries of the earth succumb to the power of the Rothschild centralized banking system, or they perish.   








MsCreant's picture

Almost makes me want to convert to some form of the Muslim religion. Good insights.

Blankman's picture

In regards to the muslim religion - Same dance, different song.  

surfsup's picture

Its not so much the religion but the culture which has been around a long long time.  They've seen the terminal aspect of usury eat its own tale -- and while its doing so all the crafty one's swim toward the head as if to extend the finite life of themselves whilst the bridge everyone is on crumbles beneath their feet into the abyss.   Aggrandizement never ends well in history as they do unto the least of them -- so they do unto themselves...  Its bent, but it is.  The Dark Age we are in is quite real...  Objective: find the things which are Wealth but do not hinge on the material game being played -- you'll find those things are not able to be taken nor is there a corner on "that" market.  Ironic that Oz is unintentionally creating a free thinking race of individuals no longer in need of the false nipple.   Bring it...

Mad Mad Woman's picture

So right.  The service economy just cannot survive any longer.  We must manufacture things again.

Ultranaut's picture

Worker productivity has skyrocketed, are you claiming that it is actually only the richest 1% who have become more productive? Everyone who isn't already rich is just getting what they deserve?


duo's picture

All of the returns of increased productivity since 1972 were siphoned off by the finance economy, leaving no real improvement in the standard of living. Our economy today (my estimates):

30% of GDP - Finance and Real Estate
17% of GDP - Medical Industrial Complex
5% of GDP - Military-industrial complex
30% of GDP - Consumed by federal, state and local governments
10% of GDP - importing, moving, storing, or selling Chinese shit
8% of GDP - Goods-producing industry (manufacturing, mining, farming)

Tic tock's picture

I think there's an evil alpha variant whom tend to stick together

Malcolm Tucker's picture

Isn't it interesting that the flattening of the yield curve is robbing the banks of the easy 

spread between ZIRP and treasuries in the quid pro quo between the Fed, Banks and Treasury?

And who is the culprit? The "dumb money" that refuses to  go into equities and has been piling into bonds for 16 months straight as reported by ZH. The "dumb money" holders are also the people who the banks won't lend to and/or who refuse to take on more debt.

Perhaps a reminder of who's boss is in order. Something like a shock to the bond market, e.g. a semi-failed auction, would put the "fear of God" back into the populace. Then the banks could make some money shorting bonds for a while, scare the pants off the treasury and congress and finally re-enter the bond market at higher yield levels, thus restoring the steep yield curve.

However, what if during this process, people get too scared, the market is already jittery, and pile into commodities and thus pushing inflation higher? Another danger is that by selling bonds, and raising rates, the banks would be raising mortgage rates and increasing the probability of debt default. This would force them to raise their loan loss provisions, a line item that has been a "source" of improved quarterly statements as of late for the banks. It would also mean that already weak loan demand would be put under further strain.

I would love to hear TD's take on this. Sorry for thinking out loud, it's my first post!






Sancho Ponzi's picture

Good first post, MT. Bernanke has been 'instructed' to protect asset prices and the equity markets, and nothing else matters. Screw rampant unemployment, bankruptcies, the middle class, regional banking, etc. The treasury curve flattening is hurting the financial industry, but Ben has to push borrowing costs lower to prop up the commercial and residential real estate market and goose equities.

QE2 and all the liquidity in the world won't do anything to help the economy if small and mid-size businesses aren't profitable, new construction is stagnant, car sales are lethargic, and tens of millions are out of work. Any attempt to increase margins to return to profitability will eventually fail if people aren't spending. Hell, Timmy could mail every household a check for $20k, and folks would simply use the cash to pay down debt or purchase PM. Debt overhang is a bitch, and it will take 6-8 years of pain to get out of this hole, and there's nothing Ben, Timmy and Larry can do about it.


Ultranaut's picture

Mailing everyone a $20K check would be a hell of a lot cheaper and more efficient than trying to trickle $20K down on them through the banksters.

PlausibleDenial's picture

Money on my mind, and my mind on my money, that'a all.....

and for those of you North of the Mason-Dixon

TruthHunter's picture

In 1976 the top marginal tax rate was 70%.

It wasn't until the Bush years that rates fell to 1928


Lowering rates for the wealthy hasn't created jobs  or

wealth for the middle class.  Reagan was  completely

wrong, money doesn't "Trickle Down". 

You can expect tax rates to rise considerably in coming

years. It won't have as much negative impact as all the

whiners think(look at the 50's and 60's top rates were 90%).

 In fact if the tax code was structured to 

reward job creators, it could be positive.


BTW,  if the average hourly wage graph

excluded government workers  it would look like a

ski jump!


Money swore and oath: "that no one who didn't love

it should ever have any of it"  Irish proverb


Reese Bobby's picture

It was NAFTA that sank the middle class.  And it was the subsequent happy rush to a service based economy that created the current sink-hole of a recession.  You and millions of others should have listened to Ross Perot.


But don't worry.  Once our national standard of living reaches equilibrium with China and India things should stabilize...

Oswald Spengler's picture


Isn't that what the globalists want?

In the 1950s, the average CEO made 15 times that of the average worker. 

three chord sloth's picture

Yep. The whole point of globalism is to eliminate the first world; its cultures and institutions. Too many inconvenient things like rights and voting. Funny... when the PTB were extolling the bright future of globalism, they never mentioned the loss of things like upward mobility, the concept of "a career", pensions, mass quality healthcare, etc. I guess they forgot those "side effects".

The elite want the whole world to converge at some mid point, like today's Mexico, where the elites are a powerful plutocracy, the middle class is small and wholy dependent upon the government and big business (and therefore well tamed) and the poor are numerous and cheap... kept powerless because they constantly fight amongst themselves.

Species8472's picture

"Trickle down" was NEVER a Republican policy. It was a derogatory term invented by Democrats. So, now you know the truth, Mr Truthhunter.

But the effect is real and is more like a water fall than a trickle. The problem is that the governmant at all levels is sucking the stream dry. That and the policy of trading with peasants. Of course there are other problems, but low taxes are not one of them.

zaknick's picture

It was actually a Demoscum description of those same Rethuglican policies that brought us here. And now you know some truth too.

Species8472's picture

No, it was a bi-partisan effort.

Bartanist's picture

Interesting how the powers that be have decided to erode the US's manufacturing base from where it was in the 70s and 80s, while average hourly income has declined on a real basis. One has to think that there was no justifiable rationale except labor arbitrage unless you subscribe to the belief that it was intentionally done to undermine the American people.

And yet, there is freedom from not being a slave to the assembly line.

CulturalEngineer's picture

Viewed in the proper light it should be obvious that excessive wealth concentration alone...

is actually a destroyer of wealth and erodes the field upon which the freedom of the individual is exercised.

At root a civilization is made of decisions... individual and group decisions in an incredibly complex interplay... and together these compose the social energy that makes it all go... or not.  

*social energy: individual and collective decisions operating within the limits of available resources and natural law which (quite literally) result in the product you see as a civilization. A decision here is defined as an idea + an action. Decisions can be motivated by any number of factors. Technologies result from previous decisions thus becoming available resources. And decision here is defined broadly... everything from "Let's build a pyramid for the pharoah!" to "I've got a headache I think I'll lie down."

All we see that is a civilization can be most fundamentally defined as a product of decisions: ideas + actions.

Decision Technologies: Currencies and the Social Contract

MurderNeverWasLove's picture

Love this:

At root a civilization is made of decisions... individual and group decisions in an incredibly complex interplay... and together these compose the social energy that makes it all go... or not.

For the topic, then, when wealth/income becomes overly concentrated how is this affecting the interplay and the energy?

Not sure I am ready to agree with this (from blog post at link):

We are dealing with a complex-chaotic system not well suited to fixed approaches. There is NO final economic formula which will allow abdication of the need for constant tinkering.


As a couple examples of very simple systems that express incredible complexity and/or chaos I would suggest DNA, cellular automata, and perhaps fractals.  And isn't that the lesson that anyone who understand any given physical law would have to admit that it is an incredibly simple principle that created all this.


Why can it not be that the idea+action be its own tinkering?

zaknick's picture

I agree with your perspective and, furthermore, I believe that great social contract that brought about things like a tendency towards income inequality came from that great unifying experience of WWII. Sadly, some citizens thought themselves above the rest and atrophied the collective discussion that enabled necessary, frank discussion of the facts essential to collective well-being when they placed (their) wealth above country:




proLiberty's picture

The main problem with comparing the income or wealth of the top percent slice with any other slice is that the top group is open ended while every other group is bounded at both ends.   Another consideration that makes this data dangerous to apply to public policy is because it hardly ever takes into account multiple years. 

In the year before I sold a business, my income was average.  In the year I sold it I was "wealthy".  My income gradually declined to average within several years.  When "wealthy" are taxed, in the case of people who started and sold a business, the steeply progressive tax brackets really diminsh the investment's ROI.  For venture capitalists this greatly affects the return on their investments, and has the effect of reducing the number of deals they are willing to fund.

But the pol or bureaucrat will only see how many "rich" are taxed.  He will never see the many future jobs that he kills with the present tax policy.



MurderNeverWasLove's picture

Progressive taxes aren't the solution unless you're beholden to the Communist Manifesto, and even in that case, they are totally evil.


Abolish all the taxes.  None are really all that fair.  Instead, a small fee on the use of money is all that is necessary.

Sell a small business for $4M, the buyer pays $20K in fees (being the initiator of the transaction).

You don't pay anything, until you start using your 4M.  And then at only at the rate of a dime on a twenty.


Ultranaut's picture

I don't understand the strange opposition to progressive taxation. If we must have a government then someone has to pay the bills. It makes fundamental sense that the more harmful taxes are to a person the less taxes they should pay. The loss of $1,000 is far more significant to the poor person making $10,000 a year than the loss of $100,000 is to the rich guy making $1,000,000 per year. A tax system that doesn't account for marginal utility might appear "fair", but in reality it is going to distort the economy in a way that perpetuates stagnate class structures.




Reese Bobby's picture

Half of workers already pay NO taxes.  We have masses of welfare deadbeats.  And still all lazy asses want to tax wealth and capital?

We already chased jobs out of this country.  Chase away our capital and you can finally stick a fork in your great Government Teet.

Ultranaut's picture

Everyone pays taxes. I wish no one had to, but I'd be happy if half of workers paid no taxes! We would be a lot better off were that true. In reality, there is no escaping taxes. Those "lucky" enough to have an income below the taxable level are still paying sales tax on everything they buy (on top of whatever corporate taxes are already embedded in prices). Not to mention the taxes on fuel and fun (i.e. alcohol and cigarettes). Then there are taxes disguised as licensing fees, mandatory insurance, etc. Taxes are everywhere, not even the homeless can avoid them.

I am not sure why you think we have masses of "welfare deadbeats" (unless you are referring to corporate welfare?), or why you believe progressive taxation will "chase away capital". I imagine you don't even realize you have internalized the propaganda of class warfare.

zaknick's picture

"We already chased jobs out of this country"


Nope, you betrayed your fellow citizen and society by refusing to pay him a fair wage, something that created a large middle class and placing the economy at the rightful service of the majority of the People, in order to pay a dollar a day wages overseas; your greed is what is behind this new paradigm of continuous bubbles in order to sustain the consumption a once healthy society easily maintained.


End the fake "Fed"; Ron Paul for President.



Peter Thiel is one of Ron Paul’s main advisors (read handler) and Mr. Thiel is a Bilderberger.