August 28, 2009

The Wealth of the Nation-- and Who Has It

In case you haven't noticed, there's still quite a socioeconomic gap in this country. It's between what we call the rich (very technical term, that) and what we call the poor. The middle class fills it in, of course, and since we're a well-established civilization we have plenty of bourgeoisie to connect the dots between rich and poor. But that doesn't mean that there aren't drastically evident differences between the most financially well-off one percent of the population and the bottom, oh, eighty percent or so.

It has always been this way and probably, admittedly, always will be. But sometimes we forget that this is the way it is. It's easy to live our lives forgetting that there are many people living very differently than we do due to economic fortunes, good or bad. Whether we're wealthy, subsisting below the poverty line, or somewhere in between, we get used to where we are and don't bother to look up or down the economic ladder.

And I don't mean to cause controversy by pointing out our economic differences. Far from it; the jealousy caused by looking up that ladder and the condescension caused by looking down are two things we can definitely do without. But we should be aware of the distribution of wealth in this country, and the wide spectrum of economic situations in which American citizens find themselves. According to one study from, the wealthiest one percent of American citizens owns about forty percent of the country. Whoa. And guess how much the bottom eighty percent gets? Only around eight percent of the country.

Table 1: Distribution of net worth and financial wealth in theUnited States, 1983-2004
 Total Net Worth
Top 1 percentNext 19 percentBottom 80 percent
 Financial Wealth
Top 1 percentNext 19 percentBottom 80 percent

That's pretty incredible. And living where I do, in Southampton, New York, I see a lot of the top one percent. I work in retail, so I get quite a few customers who probably own six or seven houses (and, like John McCain, sometimes can't even quickly remember how many they have). It's thoroughly eye-opening to be chatting with someone wearing a ten thousand dollar outfit one minute and the next chatting with someone living paycheck to paycheck. I won't say that it's the system's fault; the economy has to work somehow, and our almost-capitalism seems to be our best bet so far, if we're picking an economic system. But I will say that the system definitely has its faults.

So, the thought I'll leave you with today is this: Where do you fall in those all-important percentiles? Where do our politicians fall? And... will these percentages ever fall to a more even balance?

Distribution of wealth is a tricky thing... and worth pondering.


  1. Anonymous5:24 AM

    Well, you had my interest until the cheap John McCain slight.

  2. rideabicycle12:14 AM

    I don't need a protracted response for this one:

    Capitalism rewards merit.

    'nuff said

  3. rideabicycle12:19 AM

    Scratch that.

    You said "we get used to where we are and don't bother to look up or down the economic ladder."

    I'm pretty sure anyone with ambition (and that's nearly all of us) is well aware of what is above and below him. He does his best to climb the ladder, always balancing risks so as to not fall down.

    Capitalism is all about mobility; that's the point. If you aren't looking up the ladder, you're doing it wrong.