Earnings of Top 0.1% Have Increased 465 Percent Since 1979

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Coverage of an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report, by Common Dreams in December 2022, revealed that the earnings of the top 0.1 percent in the United States grew by 465.1 percent between 1979 and 2021. In that same time period the earnings of the bottom ninety percent grew only 28.7 percent. By 2021, the average income of someone in the bottom ninety percent was $36,571 while the average income in the top 0.1 percent was $3,312,693, or more than ninety times as much. In 1979, at the beginning of the study period, this discrepancy was not nearly so great, with someone in the bottom ninety percent earning $28,415, while the average person in the top 0.1 percent earned $586,222, or 20.6 times as much. Interestingly, the mean worker in 1979 earned $36,639, which is just slightly more than the average worker in the bottom ninety percent made in 2021. As of 2021, the share of wealth earned by the 0.1 percent has hit a historic high, while the wealth of the bottom ninety percent has hit a historic low.

The very rich are getting wealthier at a faster rate even than their merely wealthy peers. The top 0.1 percent made about 1.6 percent of all annual earnings in 1979, though by 2021 that number had increased to 5.9 percent, about a 3.7 fold increase. Furthermore, the EPI report explained, “Of the 7.3% point rise in the share claimed by the top 1% [between 1979 and 2021], 4.3 percentage points (roughly 60%) can be explained by the rise of the top 0.1% share.” This is despite the 0.1 percent being definitionally, only 10 percent of the top 1 percent.

The COVID-19 pandemic further contributed to this economic inequality. During the first two years of the pandemic, 2020 and 2021, the only group which experienced real income increases (meaning that earnings increased when taking inflation into account, as opposed to mere nominal increases) was the top 1 percent, which includes the top 0.1 percent. The earnings of the top 0.1 percent rose 18.5 percent during this period, while for the bottom ninety percent they fell 0.2 percent.

As of January 18, 2023, no corporate outlet has covered this story.

Source: Jake Johnson, “Fueling Inequality, Earnings of Top 0.1% in US Have Soared by 465% Since 1979: Analysis,” Common Dreams, December 21, 2022

Student Researcher: Annie Koruga (Ohlone College)

Faculty Evaluator: Robin Takahashi (Ohlone College)