Wealth inequality in the United States (also known as the wealth gap) is the unequal distribution of assets among residents of the United States. Wealth includes the values of homes, automobiles, personal valuables, businesses, savings, and investments. The net worth of U.S. households and non-profit organizations was $94.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, a record level both in nominal terms and purchasing power parity. Divided equally among 124 million U.S. households, this would be $760,000 per family. However, the bottom 50% of families, representing 62 million households, average $11,000 net worth.
Just prior to President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address, media reported that the top wealthiest 1% possess 40% of the nation’s wealth; the bottom 80% own 7%; similarly, but later, the media reported, the “richest 1 percent in the United States now own more additional income than the bottom 90 percent”. The gap between the top 10% and the middle class is over 1,000%; that increases another 1,000% for the top 1%. The average employee “needs to work more than a month to earn what the CEO earns in one hour.” Although different from income inequality, the two are related. In Inequality for All—a 2013 documentary with Robert Reich in which he argued that income inequality is the defining issue for the United States—Reich states that 95% of economic gains went to the top 1% net worth (HNWI) since 2009 when the recovery allegedly started. More recently, in 2017, an Oxfam study found that eight rich people, six of them Americans, own as much combined wealth as half the human race.
A 2011 study found that US citizens across the political spectrum dramatically underestimate the current US wealth inequality and would prefer a far more egalitarian distribution of wealth.
Wealth is usually not used for daily expenditures or factored into household budgets, but combined with income it comprises the family’s total opportunity to secure a desired stature and standard of living, or pass their class status along to one’s children. Moreover, wealth provides for both short- and long-term financial security, bestows social prestige, and contributes to political power, and can be used to produce more wealth. Hence, wealth possesses a psychological element that awards people the feeling of agency, or the ability to act. The accumulation of wealth grants more options and eliminates restrictions about how one can live life. Dennis Gilbert asserts that the standard of living of the working and middle classes is dependent upon income and wages, while the rich tend to rely on wealth, distinguishing them from the vast majority of Americans. A September 2014 study by Harvard Business School declared that the growing disparity between the very wealthy and the lower and middle classes is no longer sustainable.
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