The 20 richest people in America own more wealth than half the population of the United States combined. That’s one of the findings of a new report published by Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning think tank.
“This divide is not really just about the 1 percent versus the 99 percent, which is how we’ve talked about inequality,” says Hoxie. “It’s about a much smaller group.”
Together, the 20 wealthiest Americans -- a group that includes Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Koch brothers and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos -- own about $732 billion, according to the latest Forbes 400 rankings. That sum is greater than the total wealth owned by the bottom half of the U.S. population -- 152 million people -- according to an analysis of data from the most recent Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances.
Collins and Hoxie drew from those two sources to produce other stunning findings about wealth inequality. The 100 richest households have about as much wealth as the entire African-American population of the United States. The 186 wealthiest members of the Forbes 400 have about the financial worth of the entire U.S. Latino population. And the nation’s 400 richest individuals also have more wealth than the 36 million households with the country’s median net worth of $81,000 -- about the same number of families that own cats.
Hoxie said public policies, namely a tax code that favors the wealthy, have widened the divide. “If you can write the rules of the game, you can win the game, so to speak,” he said.
Wages are taxed at a maximum rate of roughly 40 percent, the report points out, but taxes on income generated by capital gains like sales of stock or other financial assets are set at a rate of 24 percent. The ability of the superrich to funnel income to offshore tax havens has also widened the wealth divide, Hoxie said.
Recent research from French economist Thomas Piketty famously pointed to increasing inequality in the United States. Like Piketty, Hoxie said that without political intervention like tax hikes on the richest share of the population, the trend will likely persist.
“If we’re not going to implement a check, then we’re going to see [the concentration of wealth] rise in next year’s report,” he said, “and the ones after that too.”