Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A row of impoverished homes sits in the literal shadow of Trump Plaza hotel and casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo: Brett Wilkins)

U.S. income and wealth inequality are the highest in the world among most-developed nations. Obscene wealth and abject poverty can often be seen side by side, as these impoverished row houses in the literal shadow of Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J. demonstrate. (Photo: Brett Wilkins)

New Data Show Income of Top 0.1% Soared 345% While That of Bottom 90% Stagnated Over Past 40 Years

"It's all a matter of political choices," progressive economist Thomas Piketty said in a recent interview. "You can have economic justice together with economic prosperity."

Brett Wilkins

U.S. wage data released this week reveal the continuation of a trend that began at the end of the 1970s, and which has given the United States the dubious distinction of having the worst income inequality among most-developed countries. 

The Economic Policy Institute reports that between 1979 and 2019, the top 1% of people in the U.S.—whose mean income was nearly $738,000 in 2018— have enjoyed 160% income growth, while wages for the bottom 90% have stagnated, rising just 26% over the same 40-year period. 

The figures showed massive inequality even among the top 1%, as the highest 0.1%—those making an average of $2.82 million—skyrocketed 345% since 1979. 

While U.S. income inequality is the worst among most-developed nations, its wealth inequality is even more egregious. According to a 2017 report (pdf) from the Institute for Policy Studies, the three wealthiest Americans at the time, Jeff Bezos—who has since become the world's first multicentibillionaire—Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, collectively held more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population, or some 160 million people. 

Experts say it is no accident that the period in which the yawning, ever-growing chasm between rich and poor began coincides with the rise of corporatist and neoliberal economic policies—colloquially dubbed "trickle-down economics"—implemented by conservative leaders including British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan in the U.S. 

Thomas Piketty, a French economist whose work focuses on economic inequality and who authored the seminal book Capital in the Twenty-First Century and the recently published Capital and Ideology, says the coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity for U.S. leaders to finally make a serious attempt to address income disparities.

"We have to revisit some of our ideologies, some of what we believe is the conventional wisdom at a given point in time," Piketty told Hill.TV last week. "I think we should use this opportunity to develop more social state, social policies in general, by which I mean a better income support mechanism, safety net, and better access to education."

"There's nothing natural in the way the economy is organized," Piketty continued. "It's all a matter of political choices, of ideology. I think it's important to send a message to working America and to low-wage America that you can have economic justice together with economic prosperity."

Piketty implored the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden to embrace egalitarian economic policies espoused by progressives such as ex-presidential primary rivals Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), including a tax on billionaires, which he said is "actually pretty popular if you look at the polls."

"I think you need to have a more ambitious policy platform of giving a better chance to more disadvantaged socioeconomic groups," Piketty said. "We're talking about a higher minimum wage, more investment in public universities, more progressive taxation at the top."

"I think it will be a big mistake for the Democratic Party leadership to abandon this kind of idea," he added.

Standing in stark contrast to what economists like Piketty say must be done to combat inequality, the administration of President Donald Trump—who has boasted of giving billionaires a $1.5 trillion tax break—said this week that it supports Senate Republicans' proposal to freeze the wages of the more than two million people who work for the federal government. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Critics Warn Biden 'Summit for Democracy' Will Highlight Democrats' Failures at Home

"President Biden can't champion democracy across the globe without fulfilling his promise to protect our voting rights at home."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Like a Teenager Promising to Clean Their Room in 30 Years': Biden Net-Zero Climate Goal for 2050 Ridiculed

"2050 is an extremely weak goal for the federal government to free itself from climate-heating pollution. It ignores existing technology and adds decades to GSA's own commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2025."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Should Cancel Student Debt or Watch $85 Billion Evaporate From US Economy: Analysis

Far-reaching cancellation enacted by Biden could add more than $173 billion to the nation's GDP in 2022 alone.

Kenny Stancil ·


Given Cover by Red-Baiting GOP, Corporate Dems Rebuked for Tanking Biden Nominee for Top Bank Regulator

"If you think that Senate Democrats rose up to [Republicans'] shameful display of modern McCarthyism by rallying around President Biden's nominee or her ideas that banking should work for the middle class, then you don't know the soul of today's Democratic Party," wrote one columnist.

Julia Conley ·


'S.O.S.!': Groups in Red States Nationwide Plead With Democrats to Pass Voting Rights Bill

"We can tell you firsthand that our Republican senators have no interest in joining this effort."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo