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11 Sep, 2013 09:22

US inequality at historic high, surpassing Roaring ’20s

US inequality at historic high, surpassing Roaring ’20s

Recent survey shows inequality in the US is at its new peak. The richest 1 percent of the population received almost a fifth of the national households’ income in 2012, thus breaking the previous record set in 1928.

The gap between rich and poor in the US is wider than ever, according to research which uses preliminary 2012 US statistics for income. It’s an update to a comparative analysis tracing income figures back to 1913 and done by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University.

Indeed, the top decile share in 2012 is equal to 50.4 percent, a level higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the ‘roaring’ 1920s,” Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez analyzes the new data in the article, posted at the University’s webpage.

The study shows measures taken by the US government to get the country out of the Great Depression efficiently contributed to curbing the growth of inequality. However, since the early 1980s the gap between the rich and the poor has been steadily increasing.

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 saw the richest being hardest hit with 36 percent of income loss, while incomes for the remaining 99 percent of the population it only diminished by 11 percent.

The wealthiest 1 percent was, however, quick to recover, capturing 95 percent of the income gains in the first two post-recession years. The 2012 data suggests the bottom 99 percent of the population has hardly seen any recovery so far.

We need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable and, if not, what mix of institutional and tax reforms should be developed to counter it,” Saez writes as a conclusion to his analysis.

The 2012 figures contribute to earlier reports on inequality surge in US, like the one issued by Pew Research Center in April, analyzing the period between 2009 and 2011. The study suggested only the top 7 percent of American households experienced an increase in their net worth during that time.

The United States Federal Reserve is quite aware of the increasing wealth gap and is investigating how the issue is affecting the country’s attempts at rebounding from the financial crisis of 2009.

“The large and increasing amount of inequality in income and wealth, which has been an ongoing development for decades, may have exacerbated the crisis and I think more research is required to determine whether it may also pose a significant headwind to the recovery from the crisis for years to come,” Fed Board of Governors member Sarah Bloom Raskin said in May.