Originally published in the Nonprofit Quarterly on March 10, 2015.
It is easy to be distracted by what passes for economic news these days, focused as it is on short-term fluctuations and assurances of recovery and revitalization. The simple truth, however, is that year by year, decade by decade, life in the United States is steadily growing ever more unequal.
Statistics illuminating this historical trajectory are easy enough to come by. For a start, the income of the top 1 percent has more than doubled in the past two decades, from roughly 10 percent of all income in 1980 to more than 22 percent in 2012.1 Meanwhile, wages for the bottom 80 percent of American workers have been essentially stagnant in real terms for at least three decades.2
The growing gaps in income inequality are matched or even exceeded by gaps in wealth. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have recently demonstrated, for instance, that American economic life is as unequal now as it was at the outset of the Great Depression. Wealth—and with it, political power—is concentrated more and more in the hands of the richest of the elite.3 From 1962 to 2010, the top 5 percent of Americans increased their share of national wealth from 54.6 percent to 63.1 percent, while the bottom 40 percent’s nearly insignificant 0.2 percent share actually declined to a negative 0.9 percent, as mounting consumer debt outpaced stagnant wages.4 The top 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 180 million Americans taken together.5
Read the rest of the article here.