Sometimes it's hard to truly grasp the meaning of big numbers. That's why it's helpful to use graphics:
Whether or not you agree with Joseph Stiglitz's take on income inequality in the US, I think you'll find his commentary to be thought provoking:
Alexis de Tocqueville once described what he saw as a chief part of the peculiar genius of American society—something he called “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.
The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.
You know how the economists are all like, "The recession is over! The recession is over!" and we regular schmoes are all like, "Maybe, but the world's still a big ****hole"? Well, the Census Bureau is here to validate our feelings:
The new figures show, among other things, that the number of people getting married fell to a record low level in 2009, with just 52 percent of adults 18 and over saying they were joined in wedlock, compared to 57 percent in 2000…
The government revealed that the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year by the largest margin ever, stark evidence of the impact the long recession starting in 2007 has had in upending lives and putting the young at greater risk.
The top-earning 20 percent of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by the bottom 20 percent of wage-earners who fell below the poverty line, according to the newly released Census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.
A different measure, the international Gini index, found U.S. income inequality at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.
At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, government data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.
Three states — New York, Connecticut and Texas — and the District of Columbia had the largest gaps in rich and poor, disparities that exceeded the national average. Similar income gaps were evident in large cities such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta, home to both highly paid financial and high-tech jobs as well as clusters of poorer immigrant and minority residents.
On the other end of the scale, Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Hawaii had the smallest income gaps.