The Cold, Hard Truth: 20 Individuals Have More Money Than Half of the US Population
Wealth inequality has become a buzzword in American politics lately, with documentaries like Inequality for Us documenting the drastic differences in financial realities for Americans. Across the board, the United States has one of the world’s most appalling income gaps when it comes to socioeconomic classes. The very, very wealthy (also referred too as the 1%) continue grow richer and richer, while the poverty rate in the country does not seem to improve and according to many studies has even gotten worse. There are a lot of things at play here; for starters, poor Americans have a harder time funding their educations, healthcare, and careers. But the problem is much more complex than that, and the world’s economists continue to share with us some startling statistics that speak to just how disparate Americans’ income is in comparison to those of other nations.
The Nation recently ran a feature discussing the details published by the Institute in Policy Studies. In “Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us,” the IPS provided not only the numbers, but also some contextual statistics that make it evident the divide in wealth also divides along color lines. According to the Nation, “ he 100 richest households own more assets than the entire African-American community.” Furthermore, “182 individuals on the Forbes list have more assets than America’s entire Hispanic population.” What’s even more troubling? The director of IPS’s Program on Inequality and the Common Good told Nation reporter Joshua Holland that “ there’s a huge amount of escaped wealth that isn’t even factored into these statistics,” thanks to the common practice of the very rich to use things like offshore tax havens and other financial loopholes. To put that disparity into perspective, Holland writes “ the twenty individuals at the top of the pile—a group that could fit into a Gulfstream G650 luxury jet, according to the study’s authors—now control more wealth than the bottom half of the population. That’s 152 million people living in 57 million households.”
So what can be done to address the ever-growing wealth gap in this country? The IPS report put forth several suggestions, including “cutting off a variety of ‘wealth escape routes’ that people who hire armies of tax accountants enjoy; raising the floor with minimum wage hikes, better access to healthcare, debt-free higher education, paid family leave, and leveling the political playing field with campaign finance reform.” All of these ideas represent the progressive politics embodied by candidates like Bernie Sanders and – although to a lesser extent – Hillary Clinton, so there is some sense of hope that a change is gonna come…but in the meantime, life is very, very difficult for millions of Americans. And, as Holland suggests, solving this problem is not as simple as electing politicians whose campaign promises are aligned with fixing the wealth gap. “ ur elected officials are highly sensitive to the interests of the wealthiest Americans (and overwhelmingly belong to that group themselves), pay some attention to those of the middle class—and the views of the poor don’t factor into legislators’ voting tendencies at all,” he writes based on findings in a report published by Princeton faculty. However, the good news is that this issue is beginning to attract a lot of mainstream attention, making it one of the most hotly debated topics not only in the current presidential campaign but also in Congress, where people like Senator Elizabeth Warren have become very vocal in the fight to bridge the gap. And, the work of folks like John Oliver, host of the politically driven and comedic news program Last Week Tonight is bringing the fight for a financial revolution to millions of households. Check out a segment from a 2014 episode below, in which Oliver excoriates the current system.
Read: “ 20 People Now Own As Much Wealth as Half of All Americans” at the Nation