Three Americans Now Own More Wealth Than Bottom Half of US Combined: Report

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Jake Johnson via,

“The elite ranks of our billionaire class continue to pull apart from the rest of us,” a new Institute for Policy study analysis finds.

In the United States, the 400 richest individuals now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population and the three richest own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent, while pervasive poverty means one in five households have zero or negative net worth.

Those are just several of the striking findings of Billionaire Bonanza 2017, a new report (pdf) published Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) that explores in detail the speed with which the U.S. is becoming “a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power.”

“Over recent decades, an incredibly disproportionate share of America’s income and wealth gains has flowed to the top of our economic spectrum. At the tip of that top sit the nation’s richest 400 individuals, a group that Forbes magazine has been tracking annually since 1982,” write IPS’s Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie, the report’s authors.


“Americans at the other end of our economic spectrum, meanwhile, watch their wages stagnate and savings dwindle.”

Collins and Hoxie are quick to note that the vast gulf that currently exists between the rich and everyone else is not the product of some inexplicable “natural phenomenon.” It is, rather, the result of “unfair economic policies that benefit those at the top at the expense of those at  the bottom.”

Based on data recently made public by the Forbes 400 list and the Federal Reserve’s annual “Survey of Consumer Finances,” Billionaire Bonanza examines in detail the principal beneficiaries of America’s “deeply unbalanced economy”: the mega-rich.

“The wealthiest 25 individuals in the United States today own $1 trillion in combined assets,” the report notes.


“These 25, a group equivalent to the active roster of a major league baseball team, hold more wealth than the bottom 56 percent of the U.S. population combined, 178 million people.”

The top 25 list features billionaires who have attained their vast riches through a variety of means, from inheritance to investing to founding a corporate giant like Amazon or Google. What unites these enormously wealthy individuals—aside from the fact that they are all white—is that they just keep getting richer, decade after decade.

Average Americans, by contrast, have not fared nearly as well: a significant percentage of the U.S. households “have no savings at all or owe more than they own,” making them residents of what Collins and Hoxie term “Underwater Nation.”

“Excluding the value of the family car, 19 percent of U.S. households have zero or negative net worth,” the report notes.


“Looking at this trend through the lens of race reveals that 30 percent of black households and 27 percent of Latino households have zero or negative wealth.”

In order to get a broader sense of the size of the chasm between rich and poor in the U.S., Collins and Hoxie place the net worth of the top one percent and the bottom one percent side by side.

“All combined, households in the bottom one percent have a combined negative net worth of $196 billion,” the report finds. “For comparison, the top one percent, a category holding the exact same number of people, have positive $33.4 trillion in combined net worth.”

Even mainstream institutions like the International Monetary Fund have acknowledged that such vast disparities of wealth and income are not sustainable, politically or economically. But as Billionaire Bonanza notes, the Trump administration—with the help of the GOP-controlled Congress—appears bent on making these disparities worse by slashing taxes for the wealthy while gutting programs that primarily benefit low-income and middle class Americans.

So the first priority, Collins and Hoxie note, is to “reject tax and other federal policies that will add oil to the inequality fire.”

In terms of going on the offensive once the “do no harm” principle is observed, the report makes several suggestions, including:

  • Enacting higher marginal tax rates on individuals earning above $250,000 and $1 million;
  • “Addressing the problem of hidden wealth,” which often leads to an underestimation of the level of wealth inequality;
  • Instituting a tax on Wall Street financial transactions, which could bring in an estimated $350 billion in federal revenue over a decade;
  • Eliminate the carried interest loophole, which allows hedge fund managers to “reclassify wage income as capital income” and pay less in taxes as a result; and
  • Bolstering, rather than eliminating, the estate tax, which only affects a tiny number families.

As “the elite ranks of our billionaire class continue to pull apart from the rest of us,” the report notes, many Americans—including students saddled with loan debt, workers suffering from stagnant wages, and families who have seen “their wealth and savings evaporate”—are revolting against the system that allowed the richest to accumulate such wealth at the expense of so many.

“A century ago, a similar anti-inequality upsurge took on America’s vastly unequal distribution of income and wealth and, over the course of little more than a generation, fashioned a much more equal America,” Collins and Hoxie conclude. “We can do the same.”

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
nmewn's picture

Ummm, no.

If there were no CRA there would have never been any need to spread junk mortgages (like a contagion) out over qualified loans. 

What YOU need to understand is, a capitalist will ALWAYS find a way to decrease risk and maximize profit and idiot socialist bureaucrats will never-ever-get-that as they scheme & plot with other peoples money.

A capitalist simply takes "what is there" and profits from it, don't forget, BILLIONS were made on the short side because of the interference in the market by .gov ;-)

Ex-Oligarch's picture

More to the point, in coming up with the factoid's asset total for the bottom 50% of the population, did the study offset the negative net worth of the poorest against the positive net worth of the more successful, or just disregard the net debtors?  Not that I'm curious enough to read the study myself, mind you, but if anyone did I would be curious to know.  

SmackDaddy's picture

Ummmm that's EXACTLY what capitalism is

Gap Admirer's picture

No, that's crony capitalism. It is government so large that it can pick winners and losers. It should not exist. It is not free market capitalism.

Majestic12's picture

"No, that's crony capitalism."

No, "crony Capitalism" is Fascism (the collusion of big business and big government).

Fascism does not have to be "totalitarian" or militaristic.

It is the collusion between what should be separate.

For example, how can the FDA regulate the Pharmaceutical industry, when in 2012 new law removed 40% of government funding to be replaced by "fees" charged to the Pharmaceutical manufacturers?

You can't "bite the hand that feeds you"...wake up!

Billy the Poet's picture

Saying that the use of money printed out of nothing to secure real assets at the expense of the competition is "crony capitalism" is like saying burning down the forest and killing all the animals is "crony environmentalism."

Crony capitalism is not a useful phrase practically or rhetorically.

Gap Admirer's picture

I agree with 99.9% of what you say but I'm not sure what you have against the term crony capitalism.

From Wikipedia (yeah, I know) - Crony capitalism is an economy in which businesses thrive not as a result of risk taken for them, but rather, as a return on money amassed through a nexus between a business class and the political class.

I think that makes it pretty clear and accurate.

Billy the Poet's picture

Capitalism is a method of increasing production through planning and saving. That which is labeled crony capitalism is usually the result of fiat money games and government regulations which have nothing to do with increasing productivity.

And when some folks hear bad things about so called crony capitalism they can be just ignorant enough to assume that both the crony and the capitalism parts are bad.

Gap Admirer's picture

Ah. True. That's why I try to use "free market capitalism" vs "crony capitalism." But, yes, capitalism is in both so will confuse some.

Endgame Napoleon's picture

Institute a Big, Comprehensive Lobbying Ban.

Lobbying is the grease for the wheels of crony capitalism in America.

Gap Admirer's picture

The only way to do that is to shrink government to its constitutionally mandated size and scope. Maybe one tenth its current size, or less? Then there will be no need for lobbying becasue government won't be involved in big money picking winners and losers. But, that's just a fantasy...

Billy the Poet's picture

Ummmm that's EXACTLY what capitalism is


Really? So when a farmer sharpens his plow (his capital) so that he can till the soil more efficiently tomorrow you condemn him for taking out a low cost loan in order to buy out the competition?

Money Boo Boo's picture

There's no such thing as Capitalism, it's a utopian ideal that human greed and crimnality will never allow to happen.  They even stole my "i"

Billy the Poet's picture

There is such a thing as capitalism. Capital is the preparations you make today in order to be more profitable tomorrow. A farmer who sharpens his plow, a student who learns a a skill and an entrepreneur who reinvests his profits all practice capitalism. If they didn't we'd all be sitting under trees eating bugs.

crazzziecanuck's picture

Were farmers in the USSR sharpening things or Oleg going into his freshman year at Moscow State University practicing capitalism?

No, they weren't.  Do some actual reading so you know how capitalism is actually defined.

Billy the Poet's picture

Do you really believe that tools in the hands of a Soviet workers were not utilized to make productive gains?


Capital goods are tangible assets such as buildings, machinery, equipment, vehicles and tools that an organization uses to produce goods or services in order to produce consumer goods and goods for other businesses.


What the USSR did not have is free market capitalism. There was no freedom. There were no markets. And so they were limited not by their abilty to use capital but by their refusal to allow the markets to function and the inabilty of innovators to profit from their work.

hestroy's picture

"There was no freedom" LOL! It was the same "freedom" you had all the time. So called "western freedom" is only a better prison.

Justin Case's picture

banking cartel giving preferential treatment

Privatizing capital gains and socializing bad debt isn't capitalist either, bailing out the banks.

Billy the Poet's picture

You are correct.


Don't forget that the establishment of a central bank is one of Marx's Ten Planks of Communism.


 5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.

Gap Admirer's picture

Did your great grandfather voluntarily sell at an agreed upon price? Sounds like he shouldn't have sold.

SmackDaddy's picture

No it was my uncle. He saw the writing on the wall. Surrender and salvage a pittance or fight and lose everything.

Ironically, his father (my grandfather) fought in the battle of the bulge. Then to come home and 40 years later watch some jew steal his life's work.

Just like Hitler said it would happen if he lost....

Gap Admirer's picture

Interesting story. Wasn't my down vote, BTW...

Justin Case's picture

I posted before I read yoar post, but I see we're on the same page. Thumb up!

Quivering Lip's picture

Centralized Confiscation and Consolidation through Counterfeiting

Xena fobe's picture

Raid the pension funds and send the jobs to China.

Twee Surgeon's picture

People 'Buy' at the lowest price, Naturally. Large Entities can provide the lowest price. I think there were Laws made long ago about Monopolization and the Company Store?

Houston, we have a problem....... I bare no malice to the top dog's, they are just doing what we would all do if we were as smart as them.

It is all a bit tilted and screwed up. The Federal Government do a lot of running around the planet stuff but they seem to pay very little attention to the USA and it's economy. It's almost like they are all in Cahoots with the big Corps.

Gap Admirer's picture

The gubmint should get out of people's business all together and let them prosper. It's not (supposed to be) the job of the government to pick winners and losers. Sadly, in our crony capitalism (not free market capitalism) system in too many cases it is.

Justin Case's picture

It's almost like they are all in Cahoots with the big Corps.

merica is USA Inc. and DC is head quarters for the corporation, that's why it's not a state, rather a District, it's a separate Gov't for the corporation USA Inc.

Gap Admirer's picture

"DC is head quarters for the corporation..."

For **any** big money entity, actually. That includes unions, especially government employee unions, trial lawyers, gay activists, abortion providers, etc. Not just big business...

Solio's picture

You have forgotten The Rule of Plunder. Nobody had to buy anything from them and they still got the foreclosed homes and and legislation to MAKE the money flow to them.

Gap Admirer's picture

In many cases that's true due to our out of control crony capitalism (government) system. For Microsoft and Amazon there is very little truth to that. People chose whether to use Microsoft products and order through Amazon or not.

Endgame Napoleon's picture

People also buy homes that are too big for their wallets, and they do not get married or stay married anymore. It is mostly married people paying off mortgages over time, with single people living in apartments more often just due to space needs.

ReturnOfDaMac's picture

A-freaking-MEN brother.  That needed to be said, wish I could uv you twice.  Hey don't like their stuff?  Make something better.  Pay someone to make it for you and sell that better, or just market someone else's stuff better than they market their stuff.  But using goobermint goons and guns to take their stuff and just give it to other folks?  That ain't right and everyone damn well knows it.  As for fat-cats in banking using tax money to buy their shares, now THATs a whole different ball of beeswax.

Justin Case's picture

There is a great example of corporatocracy way back. Read the story on Nikola Tesla. He isn't the only example in history but one that I read b/c his statue is at Niagara Falls. Wonder if they will knock that one down too?

ReturnOfDaMac's picture

Yep, know quite a bit about Nikola Tesla.  Brilliant man. His ideas on "free energy" for everybody pissed off all the right people.  They got him good.  Eventually his idea that it was better to distribute electricity via AC vs Edisons DC worked out pretty in the end though.  Some of his advanced work on electricity and magnetism is still locked up from what I can read.  The FOIA released stuff from the FBI was so redacted that it is essentially less than useless.

TeethVillage88s's picture

immy Buffett Lyrics
An average of 195,000 people in the USA died due to potentially preventable, in-hospital medical errors in each of the years 2000, 2001 and 2002, according to a new study of 37 million patient records that was released today by HealthGrades, the healthcare quality company.

The HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals study is the first to look at the mortality and economic impact of medical errors and injuries that occurred during Medicare hospital admissions nationwide from 2000 to 2002. The HealthGrades study applied the mortality and economic impact models developed by Dr. Chunliu Zhan and Dr. Marlene R. Miller in a research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in October of 2003.

"Banana Republics"

Down to the Banana Republics
Down to the tropical sun
Go the expatriated American
Hopin' to find some fun

Some of them go for the sailing
Brought by the lure of the sea
Tryin' to find what is ailing
Living in the land of the free
Some of them are running to lovers
Leaving no forward address
Some of them are running tons of ganja
Some are running from the IRS

First you learn the native custom
Soon a word of Spanish or two
You know that you cannot trust them
Cause they know they can't trust you

Late at night you will find them
In the cheap hotels and bars
Hustling the senioritas
while they dance beneath the stars
Spending those renegade pesos
On a bottle of rum and a lime
Singing give me some words I can dance to
Or a melody that rhymes

Down to the Banana Republics
Down to the tropical sun
Go the expatriated Americans
Hopin' to find some fun

Lumberjack's picture

Most of the regular folk savers came from the great depression and pased it along to the next one. Jars, bottles, seeds etc... be ready...

Endgame Napoleon's picture

Baby Boomers were spenders, not savers, in middle age. Weirdly, I have noticed more Millennials claiming to be savers and bargain hunters than the customers I waited on for so many years from the Baby Boom and Gen X. When I try to save money, quite a few Millennials I encounter say: “I try to save, too.” It surprises me. I did not notice that mentality at all except with much older, Depression Era customers, when working in luxury sales for years. It is probably not a good thing for merchants, although it is admirable in terms of the discipline.

ElTerco's picture

No, they got rich because they are overcharging customers well beyond what those monopoly products cost to make, and/or because they weren't sharing the wealth with their employees who were actually producing the products.

You don't get fabulously wealthy from being a "good guy". You get that rich from unfairly disadvantaging someone else, and doing it on purpose.

Gap Admirer's picture

$100 for a Windows operating system is not way overcharging customers. If so, don't buy it. Use Linux. It's free. Competition is great!

Xena fobe's picture

Collusion, corruption, bribes, treason, finalncial shenanigans, none of those are a factor.  Of course not.

ConnectingTheDots's picture

I am rather surprised (and dismayed) at all the down votes.

Until people stop giving their money to people or corporations they do not like, nothing will change.

I switched to Linux Mint about 2 years ago and just love it. The free software/open source movement is a model for how the world could be.



TAALR Swift's picture

This Wealthy Trinty is...?

Gates, Bezos, Buffet?

Michael Musashi's picture

More like "wealth trannies."

All beta males who were born women....

Majestic12's picture

"Excluding the value of the family car...19% have negative equity"

What "value"...a subprime auto loan?

Us "little" folk can't report debt "off balance sheet", like the rich can...

that's fair...right?

nmewn's picture

Thats where I was at, who are THE BIG THREE? 

I have my suspicions.


Suspicion confirmed, the top five are...Gates, Bezos, Buffet, Zuckerberg and

Yukon Cornholius's picture

Rothschild, Rockefeller, Astor. Same as it ever was.

Oh wait...we don't talk about them.