Off-the-charts income gains for super-rich

Zachary Roth
Senior National Affairs Reporter
The Lookout

In recent years, we've been hit with a barrage of statistics, charts, and even full-length books, documenting how inequality is on the rise in America.

But very few of them capture what's happened over the last 30 years or so as well as this image:

Put together by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington think tank, the chart is pretty self-explanatory. It shows that the 30 years following the Second World War were a time of broadly shared prosperity: Income for the bottom 90 percent of American households roughly kept pace with economic growth.

But over the last 35 years, there's been an abrupt shift: Total growth has slowed marginally, but the real change has been in how the results of that growth are distributed. Now, the bottom 90 percent have seen their income rise only by a tiny fraction of total growth, while income for the richest 1 percent has exploded by upwards of 275 percent.

One can argue about why this is happening. Some say it's the result of a decline in workers' bargaining power as labor unions have weakened, while others blame the rise of offshoring and outsourcing. But despite the best efforts of some commentators, there's really no serious debate about the overall realignment of income in our age: The already super-rich have vastly increased their share of the pie--at the expense of everyone else.