We’ve heard often that the top percentile of Americans control roughly half the wealth, more or less. Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez estimates that nearly all of the economic gains since the Great Recession have been realized by a fraction of the wealthiest Americans.
Writing for equitablegrowth.org, Michael Ettlinger puts the wealth gap into perspective:
Income inequality has gotten to the point where getting back to the distribution of income that existed in 1979 would require transferring more than $1 trillion from the top income groups to the rest of the income spectrum…To accomplish this just through the tax system would be a significant undertaking. The effective rate on the top 1 percent would need to rise by 40 percentage points—a cool tripling of their income tax burden—with all that revenue redistributed to the bottom 95 percent. Even getting back to the 1989 income distribution would require a 25 point increase in the top 1 percent effective rate. Getting to 1999 would require a 13-percentage point increase.
Ettlinger suggests that most of us fail to appreciate the magnitude of our inequality. So we seem content to nibble around the edges even as the problem worsens.