Thursday, November 17, 2011

99% v 1%: The Data Behind the Occupy Movement

It has been the rallying cry of the Occupy movement for the past two months - but is the US really split 99% v 1%? As poverty and inequality reach record levels, how much richer have the rich got? This animation explains what the key data says about the state of America today

by Mariana Santos and Simon Rogers

Is it really 99% v 1%? It has become the rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street movement - and the Occupy protests around the world. But is it true?

This is the data behind this animation, produced by Guardian interactive designer Mariana Santos. And that data does show some people have done better out of America's economic booms of the last 20 years than others - as this report from the Congressional Budget Office shows too.

When Americans are asked how US wealth is distributed, they think the very richest fifth should own up to 40% of the national wealth - and that includes 90% of Republicans surveyed. In fact, that richest group owns 85% of the nation's wealth. Those surveyed also thought the bottom 120 million people should own around 10% of the national wealth. The reality: 0.3%

In fact, the super rich - the top 0.01% of the population - own more of the national wealth now than at any time since 1928, just before the Great Depression. And the richest 1% of the US population? They own a third of US net worth.

In Bill Clinton's boom of 1993-2000, average incomes went up - just as they did during George W Bush's boom at the beginning of his presidency. But if you were rich, you gained even more: nearly half of all the growth in the Clinton boom years. Under George W Bush it was 65%.

There are now over 3.1m millionaires and the US has over 400 billionaires, more than any other country in the world. Who's at the top of that pile? Bill Gates with a net worth of $59bn, Warren Buffett ($39bn), Lawrence Ellison ($33bn). That's just over the combined budget shortfall of every state in the US for 2011

In 2010, the average American earned $26,487 - down over $2,000 in real terms on 2006. That's a drop of 5.27%, including inflation. If you were poor it's been an even bigger drop - the 24 million least wealthy households in America saw their average income go down by 10% From $12,276 in 2006 to $11,034 in 2010.

If you were super rich it went down too. The 400 wealthiest American households lost around 4%, including inflation Between 2006 and 2008 - the latest year we have the data - the richest 400's household income went down by 4% - if you include inflation. That's to an average of $270.5m per household Nearly 5,400 times the average household income in the United States.

Part of the reason average Americans have been hit so hard is where their wealth comes from. Before the crash, middle-class Americans had 65% of their wealth tied up in their house.. But the richest 1% of the population kept most of their wealth in stocks and shares and business. So, when house prices went south, many Americans found their wealth disappearing too.

Now, one in every seven Americans lives below the poverty line - that's a record 46.2 million people (although it might actually be higher).

• One in six Americans have no health insurance - 50 million people, a population twice the size of Texas (27m people). Of every 17 Americans, at least one will be earning below the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

• 14.5% of Americans households are defined as "food insecure". That means for every seven households, one will have trouble putting enough food on the table

US poverty map. Click image to explore the data

Meanwhile, a Washington Post investigation found
"since the 1970s, median pay for executives at the nation's largest companies has more than quadrupled, even after adjusting for inflation, according to researchers. Over the same period, pay for a typical non-supervisory worker has dropped more than 10%"
What about taxes? The 400 wealthiest households paid $19.6bn in taxes in 2008 - the latest year we have data. That's 1.9% of all the income tax the IRS collects. If you are in the top tax bracket, your tax rate is 35%. But it doesn't quite work like that.
Imagine you are a billionaire and your income comes mostly from investments. Imagine you are Warren Buffet. You would end up paying a tax rate of under 20%. In fact, Buffett paid 17.4% tax last year. This is the "effective" tax rate.

If you earn between $100,000 and $200,000 you will be paying up to 25% effective tax rate - and that's before payroll taxes kick in. The 400 richest tax returns surveyed by the IRS paid just 18.1% in 2008.

Is it the 99% v the 1% What do you think?

You can read the animation's complete script below - and download the data for yourself.

Download the data

DATA: download the full spreadsheet

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