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Top 1 percent more on top than ever

'Occupy Wall Street' protesters march in front of the Chase Manhattan Bank headquarters on October 12, 2011 in New York City.

Kai Ryssdal: Here's some fodder for the zeitgeist debate over whether or not Occupy Wall Street might be onto something. There's a new report out from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on income inequality. Contained within is a somewhat startling statistic: The top 1 percent of the population has seen its share of total national income nearly double in the last 30 years. The CBO says the top 1 percent now captures more than 20 percent of everything we collectively take home.

The protesters down on Wall Street and across the country and the world have a saying you might have heard: 'We are the 99 percent,' it goes. So who's in the 1 percent? And what do they do for a living that gets them there? We sent Marketplace's David Gura to find out.


David Gura: So, there's this old story about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and it may be apocryphal, but supposedly Fitzgerald said to Hemingway, "The very rich are different from you and me."

Jacob Hacker: And Ernest Hemingway replied, "Yes. They have a lot more money."

That's Jacob Hacker. He teaches at Yale -- political science, not American literature. Anyway, Hacker says that over the last 30 years, the wealthiest Americans have gotten way wealthier.

Hacker: The top 1 percent has pulled dramatically away from the rest of Americans over the last generation.

Hacker says government policies helped fuel that trend with tax cuts and loopholes that benefit the rich. We're talking about corporate lawyers, hedge fund managers and real estate titans.

Lane Kenworthy is a sociologist at the University of Arizona.

Lane Kenworthy: A third of them, roughly speaking, are executives and supervisors who are not in finance.

Kenworthy says you'd expect the top 1 percent to include athletes and movie stars. Well, you'll be surprised.

Kenworthy: Sports and media is actually much, much smaller than most people imagine.

Only about 2 percent of that top 1 percent.

So, what's changed? Jacob Hacker says we've seen a big shift. Today's rich, for the most part, are the working rich.

Hacker: Unlike the rich of the Gilded Age, back in the early 20th century, the very rich today are not living off their accumulated wealth.

Making money off investments and real estate. Today, they're getting big paychecks. Those have ballooned since financial deregulation. But compensation is more than than that: it's also stock options, insurance and big bonuses. And the Gilded Age has given way to golden parachutes executives can deploy even when companies don't do so well.

In Washington, I'm David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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Au contraire, Who Where! You misrepresent the findings reported in the Kiplinger report.

You say:
"One percent of taxpayers reported almost 17% of all taxable income. But that same tiny group also kicked in 37% of all the taxes paid."
But that's not what the Kiplinger report said. It reports that the top 1% of earners earn 17% if all income and pay 37% of all FEDERAL INCOME TAX. But Federal Income Tax is only one tax among many, and the superrich pay other taxes (Social Security, sales, etc) at a much LOWER rate than the rest of us. Thus the rich still pay a lower overall tax rate.

If you look at the entire tax structure in the US, it remains massively regressive.

Near the highest category of earners in the top 1% is the medical field. The connection between this and skyrocketing medical costs is rarely made since so much ire is directed toward bankers and CEO's.

It's unlikely the top 1% pays a higher percent of income tax because capital gains are taxed at lower rates thanks to the Republicans.

Sure, they might earn 20% of all income but how much are they shelling out in taxes? I'm willing to bet that the top 1% pays more than 20% of all the income taxes collected.

It's larger than reported because some companies are private.
There's ample evidence that concentration of wealth is devastating to the economy. It is now more concentrated than 1929.

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