Wealth in the U.S. (and why it’s so important to vote!)

Last week I provided you with some data about the distribution of income in the United States. We saw that the top 5 percent of U.S. households took in 21.7 percent of the nation’s income. The top 20 percent took in 50 percent of the income. We also saw that between 1997 and 2008, the top 10 percent of households captured all the income gains in the country.

This week, let’s take a look at how wealth (net worth) is distributed among U.S. households. If you really want to dig into this, go here to the website of G. William Domhoff, a sociology professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Domhoff doesn’t offer a dollar estimate of total net worth in the United States; the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis pegged it at about $62.7 trillion as of the second quarter of 2012.

Here are some highlights from Domhoff’s website:

  • In 2010, the bottom 80 percent of Americans held 11.1 percent of total net worth in the country. The top 1 percent held 35.4 percent of total net worth, and the next 19 percent held 53.5 percent.
  • In terms of financial wealth (wealth excluding home value – stocks, bonds, etc.), the bottom 80 percent accounted for 4.7 percent in 2010; the highest percentage reached by this group since 1983 was 9.1 percent in 1998, a boom time for stocks. In 2010, the top 1 percent held 42.1 percent of financial wealth, and the next 19 percent held 53.5 percent.
  • The bottom 40 percent of Americans hold 0.3 percent of the wealth of the country.

Here is more detail, again from Domhoff’s website:

As a sociologist, Domhoff is primarily interested not in wealth but in power and how it is organized and used in the United States. Power, he says, has to do with the capacity to realize wishes or reach goals even in the face of opposition. With so much wealth concentrated at the top, it’s tough for the bottom 80 percent – maybe even the bottom 90 percent – to get organized and exercise much power.

That’s why free and open elections are so important in the United States. No matter how much or how little you have, at the polls, you have exactly the same net worth as everyone else – one vote. As the old song says, you’re as “rich as Rockefeller” at the election booth. That’s why it’s important to make sure people can vote, and that’s why it’s important for you to vote. You might not think you count for much in this country, but your one vote is valuable. It counts exactly the same as Warren Buffett’s or Sheldon Adelson’s, so use it whenever you can.

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