Income inequality in the U.S. is currently the highest its been since the 1920s, with the 400 richest Americans (who are all billionaires) having as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of Americans combined. And as it turns out, just one wealthy family has managed to amass a fortune equal to that of the combined net worth of the bottom 30 percent of Americans — the Waltons, heirs to the WalMart fortune, as Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist at the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, found:
The triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) is one of the best sources for data on wealth in the U.S. And, of course the Forbes 400 estimates the worth of the wealthiest amongst us—all 400 wouldn’t be captured in the SCF. If we look at both the SCF and the Forbes 400 we can glean some interesting insights.
In 2007 (the most recent SCF) the cumulative wealth of the Forbes 400 was $1.54 trillion or roughly the same amount of wealth held by the entire bottom fifty percent of American families. This is a stunning statistic to be sure.
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Upon closer inspection, the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons—all children (one daughter-in-law) of Sam or James “Bud” Walton the founders of Wal-Mart—were on the list. The combined worth of the Walton six was $69.7 billion in 2007—which equated to the total wealth of the entire bottom thirty percent!
Not only have the Waltons gathered a fortune equal to that of the bottom third of the country, but they spend it lobbying to cut their own taxes. For years, the Waltons have been supporting efforts to cut the estate tax, the tax levied on inheritance. Conservatives intent on cutting this tax — which they’ve brilliantly dubbed the “death tax” — led to President Obama agreeing to a “compromise” last year that lowered the rate and increased the tax-free exemption, giving a senseless tax break to extremely wealthy families.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, “for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income, average real after-tax household income grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007,” while it grew by just 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent of the income scale. In a given year, the richest ten percent of the country takes home about one quarter of total income. But Congress still saw fit last year to give a tax break to the very richest families, who have collected fortunes that dwarf anything the rest of the country will ever see. (HT: Huffington Post)