“We are the 99 percent” is the defining slogan of the movement that has focused on the significant divergence of the top 1% from everyone else. The share of income going to the top 1% in America has risen dramatically over the past three decades. As incomes have stagnated through the rest of the income distribution, the incomes of the wealthiest 1% have shot skyward. In 2010, as the economy began to rebound, 93% of the increase in aggregate household income was captured by the richest 1% of families.
Meanwhile, long-established poverty measures tell us about the bottom of the income distribution. For a family of two adults and two children, the household income level that determines whether they live in poverty was computed at $22,811 in 2011. That year the number of Americans living below this cutoff reached 46.2 million (15.0%) up from 33 million in 2001. Minnesotans do not reside in poverty at the same rate as do Americans more generally, but even here the rate has lately crept above 10%. The number of Minnesotans living in poverty now exceeds half a million. These numbers represent a tremendous amount of aggregate misery and anxiety across the state.
The Gini coefficient is an overall measure of inequality. It varies from zero (in a society where everyone has exactly the same income) to one (if one person receives the entirety of a society’s income). In the US, this measure has risen inexorably over the past three decades, reaching a new high of .477 in 2011. As the economy has grown in the recent past, those at the top have received the lion’s share of the gains, worsening inequality.