A new study of the distribution of income by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) highlights the enormous sway the top one percent of families (defined as tax paying units, either single adult or married couple) has over the US economy. The authors found:
Between 2009 and 2013, the top 1 percent captured 85.1 percent of total income growth in the United States. Over this period, the average income of the top 1 percent grew 17.4 percent, about 25 times as much as the average income of the bottom 99 percent, which grew 0.7 percent.
In 24 states the top 1 percent captured at least half of all income growth between 2009 and 2013.
In 15 of those states the top 1 percent captured all income growth between 2009 and 2013. Those states were Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
In the other nine states, the top 1 percent captured between 50.0 and 94.4 percent of all income growth. Those states were Arizona, California, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
This development, where the top 1 percent captures almost all of the income gains during a period of economic expansion, has now become business as usual. As the figure below shows, the top 1 percent has increased its share of income, expansion by expansion, starting in the late 1970s.
Not a pretty picture—recessions bring losses to the great majority of working people and expansions bring gains only to those at the top.
Clearly, we need significant structural changes to achieve an economy that works for the majority. Just as clearly, there is a powerful minority that has every reason to use its considerable power to block those changes. Among other things, they actively use their wealth to influence candidate selection and elections and, by extension, our national and state economic policies.
And, perhaps even more importantly, they use their control over media to try and convince us that the existing system is a fair and just one.