Imagine lining up everyone in America according to what they own, starting with those who own nothing and continuing down the line to those who own a lot. Now divide that line of people into five equally long segments. Each segment would include 20% of the total population, or about 61.7 million people. Next, add up the total amount of what everyone owns in each segment. The result is represented by the pie chart below. The whole pie represents the total wealth in America. The size of each slice represent the ratio of how much each segment owns of America's wealth. The slice of ownership for the poor and working poor are barely visible. 80% of all Americans own just 15.6% of America's wealth.
ADDENDUM: The number of people who slipped into poverty in 2010 is an all time high of 46.2 million, so the poorest 20% in terms of wealth ownership includes 15.5 million folks who technically don't meet the poverty criteria, based on income levels. The poor essentially own almost nothing. The working poor own twice of almost nothing.
When I first plotted the distribution of wealth in America in this pie chart it reminded me of that Pac-Man figure. The richest Americans own 84.6% of everything while the remaining 80% of us have 15.4% left. The statistical middle of what we call the "middle-class" owns just 4% of America's wealth assets.
Second addendum: A lot of folks are asking me to include income figures with the pie chart. The pie chart displays the distribution of wealth, not income. It includes all equity ownership in everything from homes to 401K's, stocks, bonds, businesses, etc. This chart cannot be directly converted to income levels. There are people with equity but not much income and people with large incomes but not much equity. However, some assumptions may apply. For example, the median income (middle most income) will fall somewhere near the center of the red colored slice, about where the label line is drawn. That group makes, on average, about $26,364 per year, or about $52,000 per household. The top 1% own a little more than half of the big yellow slice, and there are data about the average income in that group. One of the things most disturbing about this graph, in my opinion, is how things look when we label our financial classes by percentile groupings rather than income levels. We really come to see just how compressed wealth distribution is in America. Missing from media discussion over the past few decades is mention of the working poor. Everyone is either poor (now about 45 million people) or middle class, which has come to include people who are really quite well off. But when you see wealth classes distributed and labeled this way you begin to see just how disproportional things are. The other conclusion I come away with is that there is plenty of wealth here in the still wealthiest nation on Earth. Telling ourselves that we can't afford social services for the poor or good public schools or what ever else we desire as a nation is simply not true. As a nation we can afford a much better society than we have now. (See my 99 year history of tax rates in America for an idea of how we got this way. www.AsEyeSeesIt.blogspot.com)