For more information on the reasons behind the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States, take a look at Clive Crook's essay ("The Height of Inequality") in the latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly at:
Here are a few tidbits to draw you toward his findings:
Between 1966 and 2001, median wage and salary income increased by 11%, after inflation.
Income in the 90th percentile increased by 58%.
At the 99th percentile the increase was 121%.
At the 99.9th percentile the increase stood at 236%.
Finally, at the 99.99th percentile--representing the 13,000 highest paid workers in the nation--the growth rate was 617%. Most of these workers are either celebrities or top executives.
Each of these figures report on wage and salary income only, and do not include investment income.
Here is the crux of Crook's report:
"Productivity growth has always been seen as perhaps the single most important indicator of rising, broad-based prosperity. But remarkable growth in top-end pay, together with the relative constancy of labor's overall share of income, has an obvious implication: the highest earners are now capturing most of the gain in national income caused by economy-wide productivity growth.
"This is quite disturbing. Historically, rising productivity has been a tide that lifted nearly all boats. For more than twenty years during the long surge of productivity growth that followed the Second World War, median incomes in the United States rose as quickly as the highest incomes. This came to be regarded as normal--and, seen from a global vantage point, it still is. The dispersed benefits of high aggregate productivity are the reason why jobs of almost every kind pay better in rich countries than in poor ones. . . .
"Over the past thirty-five years, that growth did not lift most boats, or even very many boats. Between 1966 and 2001, only 10 percent of American workers saw their incomes rise at least as fast as economy-wide productivity did.
. . .from 1997 to 2001, the top 1 percent captured far more of the real national gain in wage and salary income than did the bottom 50 percent."
Like I say, the article will be well worth your time.
Crook's review of Jan Pen's book, Income Distribution at the beginning of the article, with its fascinating image of workers on parade, makes the piece a must read.
Take a look.
As you read, remember: life at the very bottom is literally off the charts when it comes to lost "fair share" and real opportunity.
When it comes to overcoming poverty, we must remember that a large part of our challenge is truly systemic and structural, and thus, beyond the control of low-income individuals no matter how hard they work.