Visualizing US Income Disparity, Or How The Rich Have Gotten Poorer For The Fifth Year In A Row

Tyler Durden's picture

There was little of note in the annual US Census Bureau update titled "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States." The key number everyone hones in on in this report - the number of America living in poverty - is already well known courtesy of foodstamp data. Per the Census bureau this number was 46.2 million Americans in 2011 or "after 3 consecutive years of increases, neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the 2010 estimates." Actually this statement is quite wrong as the foodstamp data speaks a very different story, but it is an election year, and most people are mathematically challenged. Either way of looking at it, 15% of the US population living in poverty is hardly a statistic to be proud of, regardless who is president. Which brings us to a second point: when looking at the wealth dispersion by percentile, Wharton economist Justin Wolfers commented that "The rich just keep getting richer." Actually, based on the Census data he was looking at this also is wrong, as the underlying series shows that both the household income of the uber-wealthiest 95th percentile, as well as the income spread between the 95th and 10th percentile, over the past 5 years has actually been going down. In fact, the average income of the richest disclosed percentile is $186,000, or the lowest since 1999. So yes, the rich may be getting richer, but it certainly is not based on Census data, which shows that the wealth of the top percentile has been not only flat but modestly declining for 12 years.

If anything, perhaps the Census Bureau should narrow down the top 5% percentile to the top 1% or better yet 0.1%, or best of all 0.00001%. Because the number of people truly getting richer in the current economy, is more and more limited to a few hundred people.

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SelfGov's picture

Whoa, man. How weird is it that income plateaued around the same time that global oil production plateaued?

You'd think oil production and the economy were inextricably linked somehow. Weird.

ATM's picture

Good clean burnging coal baby!

strannick's picture

By ''poorer'' are you referring to a decreased rate of increasing richness?

dolph9's picture

This does not distinguish between the upper middle class and the genuine upper class.

It's all about how much liquid wealth you have and how connected you are.  If you are a banker (or anybody else) who has tens or hundreds of millions, and you get a bailout from our corrupt government, then you are doing just fine if not better than before.

The upper middle class is treading water and soon enough they will become downwardly mobile.

Divided States of America's picture

Honestly, if they had a section with NEGATIVE Income (in some form of debt), I am sure the lines would be increasing at the fastest rate as the income goes lower (more negative).

LMAOLORI's picture



That's the New World Order plan two classes Ultra Rich and Poor.  The Middle Class Gun Toting American's were too much of an impediment to the Elites in which of course you must include the politicians.  That is why they also allowed unfettered immigration both legally and illegally.  If they flood the country with poor while at the same time outsourcing our jobs (NAFTA thanks clinton) it was easier to accomplish since they created infighting. A poor unarmed citizenry is actually easier to control.  You may think not but just look around at all the third world shit holes and see how well they do protesting their government. Even the so called revolutions the U.S. helped create via soros and friends like the Egyptian uprising ended in military or another form of Totalitarian control (Libya for example is in the hands of Al Qaeda & Muslim Brotherhood). 

ATM's picture

Ultra Rich = Totalitarian.


CPL's picture

You don't get it.  Anyone holding paper currency in any form in ALL tax brackets are poorer because they hold fiat currency.


This is only a matter of time before people race for the door.  All we are discussing now is who is smart enough to get out first and then RULE.  Because people with the gold make the rules.

Stuck on Zero's picture

Agree.  What's this BS about "uber-wealthiest 95th percentile."  Is that a joke?   Why not a graph of the real wealthy 0.001%?  This article is clearly another paid-for by the 0.001% diatribe.


Bicycle Repairman's picture

It all depends on how you define "rich".  If you include the professional class with the plutocrats, you get a distorted picture. 

The plutocrats are getting richer and they have all the power.

wcvarones's picture

Good point -- this is median by quintile.  The median of the top quintile is professionals and business owners, not the oligarchs.  The median of a large group hides what's happening to the oligarchs.

Break it out by top 1% or 5% and you'll get a very different story.


Urban Redneck's picture

1% of 300,000,000 people is 3,000,000 people

.1% of 300,000,000 people is 300,000 people

.01% of 300,000,000 people is 30,000 people

.001% of 300,000,000 people is 3,000 people

.0001% of 300,000,000 people is 300 people (ABOUT RIGHT)

wcvarones's picture

Difference is wealth vs. income.  Yeah, they're earning 0% on their Bernanke Fun Bucks, but their gold and stocks are up huge.

Shizzmoney's picture

Man, what troubling news.  I'm going to say a prayer for these poor folk who can't go on that second vacation!

All kidding aside, this chart really demonstrates the dealth of the small business owner, and the middle income wage earner.  They are going the way of the Dodo. 

Mercury's picture

That's because wealth creation/destruction is just that - and not a zero/sum game.

mickeyman's picture

I beg to differ. It is a zero-sum game. Eventually all your wealth sums to zero.

CPL's picture

Correct.  There is no u-haul behind the hearse. 


Pharohs tried that and the historical discoveries over the last 100 years indicate that we were too late to loot most of them.  lol  As much as I love the Indian Jones movies, all the movies have a common theme, looting the shit out of hollowed ground. 


The dead don't care.

Mercury's picture

There is a U-Haul behind the hearse.  It’s just a question of whether  government agents or your heirs are driving it.


The problem with the ancient Egyptian economy by the way, as Hernando DeSoto pointed out a few years ago, is that the pharaoh basically owned everything. Even the nobility didn’t own the land they controled which means they could never capitalize it.


In other, later systems with a landed aristocracy, important mechanisms were in place to build wealth...for only a very few maybe but nonetheless wealth was built to an extent that wasn't possible without explicit private property rights.

CPL's picture

The semantics of ownership after death are always tricky.


Would the government or family care about the couch or tube tv?  Probably not.  Everyone is more concerned with the assets that have apparent value like cash, house and the silver spoon collection.  That's where the fist fight comes in.  Not because the assets exist but because they represent a value in the current currency.


Antiques Roadshow is an awesome show to underline "value" and how we are not business men or working stiffs, but ultimately collectors that eventually lose our collections.  Prince or pauper...people's old crap show up.  A historian gets worked up, explains some background and takes a swing at what something is worth.  I doubt that the older nice biddy's that drag a chesterfield or a painting there care if there is an auction value.  Most of them are looking for a relatable value for insurance.


And yup...the Pharaohs watched their assets decline with the shrinking of the Nile as the population of the area increased.  Egypt was blessed being in the right time and right place, environmental and people breeding like rabbits put the nail in the coffin for the military might of the region.  Hardly the biblical plague of locusts, just more people than locusts, but capable of pitchforks and torches.  There is quite a bit of story telling in the old testament about revolutions and such.  The Jewish spring against the Pharaoh.


As the Pharoh asset class of working assets like people, land and food failed so did the idea of a God king.

Mercury's picture

Well, some people spend their money on worthless crap and some spend it on things of real quality that have and hold their value. And some people do not only that but also plan ahead and pass their values and their stuff onto the next generation. Wealth can concentrate and build by such means completely independent of capitalism or cronyism etc. and I personally take little issue with that.

CPL's picture

I agree, inherited power, title and land is vile.  But it's also situational.


If any of my children showed an interest in running my business, I would not let them.  Morally it's wrong because they didn't earn it, ethically it's a conflict of interest because they have control of a purse that has other earmarks and commitments towards employees and partners.


Worst case I seen was in 2002, a nice lady and lawyer I knew had a heart attack and passed away at 53.  She ended up not including caveats in her will about how funds were to be managed by her single hier Gilbert.  Gilbert worked in the pub I liked to frequent, good lad, good grades, worked hard...earned his own bread.  When his Mum passed away and left him around 300k, not a fortune by any means to a lifetime of work.

Gilbert went from good kid with things going for him, to a cracked out dead 19 year old wrapped around a tree and a new porche.  Gilbert mistook the left overs of his mother's life as his fortune, then pissed it away with the help of his "friends" and managed to get himself killed by crashing his car.  His mother's intention was that he have school covered and have a little left over to start a life.  She mistook his moral compass for her own after a lifetime of hard work and hard savings.  

He didn't have enough left to be buried proper with a wake.  He was secretly deeply in debt releveraging his mothers home and pretending to be rich after pissing away the cash money's given.  


impermanence's picture

When the axe is imbedded mid-way through the skull, do you really need an MRI to reveal the cause of death?

darteaus's picture

Only if the axe first had to penetrate your abdomen.

CPL's picture

All causes of death are related to Pulmonary/respiratory failure. 


People can be (and are unfortunately) born without brains and live their lives as house-pets to others.


But the fiat de compli is lungs and heart stop working.  When we die, everyone suffocates to death in terms of process.  Cancer...MS...AIDS with complications.  All of it.  The process to death is the same.  Morphine and other pain remediation helps shut it down faster without the patient feeling their heart and lungs stop.

prains's picture

400 americans own more capital than 150 million americans, i didn't realize there were that many lazy americans   



dadichris's picture

IMO, this is a simple function of our monetary system. Lending money at interest will lead to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of very few in as short as a 50-year span. This is simple math.  It's delusional to believe that there can be any other result from our existing debt-based monetary system.  This has nothing to do with capitalism vs. socialism and everything to do with fractional reserve banking and debt-based currency.

pods's picture

Preach it far and wide brother!


Zero Govt's picture

Pleased that's settled

Now we just have to get past the hurdle of the 'Gold is Money' crowd who want to replace one monopoly on money with a monopoly commodity money system

then we get to where we should be, a Free (competitive) Market in Money

wake me up when we (finally) get there

ATM's picture

In other words - Barter where anythng of value becomes a possible money but relative value changes with each person.

dadichris's picture

I disagree; the rich do keep getting richer in terms of net wealth.  Tracking income data is a red herring.  It's not how much you make, it's how much you control that matters.

Tyler Durden's picture

Actually, what you are referring to is how much cash-flow owned assets generate. What you are trying to say is that the richest are concentrating more and more of the cash-flow producing assets. This may be the case, but said assets are certainly not manifesting themselves in cash flow creation for their owners. And that is precisely the problem of the entire insolvent "developed" world.

As more and more debt is being piled on (total global public and private debt is at an all time record currently), the offsetting assets have not been replenished (via CapEx spending, technological innovation or otherwise) and as a result the asset side of the global balance sheet is generating less and less cash. Which by the way is the primary reason why the global central bank cartel is doing all it can to lower the global interest expense, i.e., the cost of liabilities. Because with assets generating less cash by the day, there is logically less cash that can go to pay the interest on liabilities.

Another way to say this is what we have been saying for over a year now: money good assets are evaporating by the hour, confirmed by observing the ever looser collateral requirements by the ECB (today) and the Fed (tomorrow).

Mercury's picture

They might also be buying up hard assets that may or may not be currently generating enough cash to cover their cost of carry.

Tyler Durden's picture

but... that would mean.... unpossible

NotApplicable's picture

Eating the seed corn! Mmmmm. yummy.

"CapEx, it's what's for dinner."

sgt_doom's picture

Correct, of course, dadichris, as this graph is based upon public sources, and the vast majority of the wealth, assets, etc., of the super-rich is privately recorded, when it is actually recorded.

Hence, David Rockefeller was listed at an estimated worth of $30 billion back in 1960, while today he's listed between $2B to $3 Billion --- and trust me, he hasn't given it away, simply had their accountants hide that wealth and ownership in foundations, trusts, offshore trusts, and offshore unregistered trusts, etc.

Which is why the vast majority of private planes and jets are located in the British Virgin Islands (on paper, that is, as that be where they are registered for tax avoidance purposes --- and hiding ownership and wealth).

Jason T's picture

The US Empire peaked in 2000 as per Martin Armstrong, 224 years after its' 1776 birth.  Just as the Roman empire lasted 224 year or from 44 B.C. to 180 A.D.  

Tis Destiny.

CPL's picture

Actually it's a generational expansion thing that has been replicated in psychology experiments over 50 years.  25 generations until collapse

1Inthebeginning's picture

Thanks for the model of population growth and behavior.

Mike in GA's picture

Thanks for the link...that is a fantastic study. Absolutely good reading and mind-blowing empirical evidence.  I wonder if America has already passed the event horizon and if so, will it (with historical hindsight) be proof that our thin veneer of civilization is less than that of mice?  Talk about Behavioral Sink! :(


CPL's picture

It's a creepy feeling that we are programmed to implode when given every opportunity to better ourselves.


What would blow your mind is all it would take is a change of attitude to reset it and start over.  Biological motivators are ALWAYS in play regardless of how advanced we assume ourselves to be.  Another behavior I would like to point out is something every fisherman I've met out in east coast knows.  


Take a crab and put it in a bucket, the crab will and can and does manage a method to escape a standard bucket.

Put another crab in the bucket with the crab in it and something weird happens.  The second crab will stop the other crab from tipping the bucket and escaping.  So next time you have a chance to check it out, watch crabs in a bucket.  There is always a couple trying to make out of the boiling pot, but behind them there are dozens pulling them back in.

not fat not stupid's picture

Capitalism is it's own worst enemy.

Zero Govt's picture

nope, that would be any form of monopoly, from Govt to the rotten fruit that hang from it (eg. The Fed etc)

NotApplicable's picture

Tell me, just where is the problem with producing more than one consumes and using the excess to fund further production?

My guess is that you'll identify something in the financial system, rather than legitimate capital formation, if you try to answer that question.

Zero Govt's picture

"...How The Rich Have Gotten Poorer For The Fifth Year In A Row"

well that settles it, not long for Benny to get his marching orders now

JamesBond's picture

isn't census data merely self-reported income?  or is there a direct line to the IRS for verification?

i suspect many people under report their income to the census....  



darteaus's picture

And all the rich of 5 years ago are still rich?

And all the poor of 5 years ago are still poor?

Maybe in Cuba or North Korea, but not in the US.

Arcturus's picture

The 95th percentile is the new middle class.

JJSF's picture

It's all about changing the definition of what "rich" is in general public perception. Then once the state of this definition is satisfactory it is then used as a matador's cape to bring in the throngs of angry and vengful lower classes to destabilize them enough to have assets of the "rich" handed to the real this transition stage i'm referring to the banks...


Always the same throughout history..

Elites sick the lower classes on the up and coming middle and upper classes which then hand over their assets to the elites and at the same time destroy any up and coming competition..increasing their monolopy.