connecting the dots on a growing divide

Wealth Inequality

Download Chart PackWealth inequality can be described as the unequal distribution of assets within a population. The United States exhibits wider disparities of wealth between rich and poor than any other major developed nation.

Defining Wealth

We equate wealth with “net worth,” the sum total of your assets minus your liabilities.

Examples of assets: checking and savings accounts, vehicles, a home that you own, mutual funds, stocks and bonds, real estate, and retirement accounts.

Examples of liabilities: a car loan, credit card balance, student loan, personal loan, mortgage, and other bills you still need to pay.

In the United States, wealth inequality runs even more pronounced than income inequality

Household Wealth

Median net worth in 2009, the latest year with estimates available, stood at $62,000. Half of American households had net worth greater than this figure, half had less.

Wealth inequality can be assessed by looking at the share of wealth owned by the richest 1 percent of Americans. In 2009, this top 1 percent of U.S. households owned 35.6 percent of the nation’s private wealth. That’s more than the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent.

Source: Economic Policy Institute, “The State of Working America’s Wealth, 2011.


The ratio of the average top 1 percent wealth to median wealth was 172.7 at the start of the 21st century. By 2010 it ballooned to 288.4, an absurd 67 percent increase of an already great disparity in wealth.

Source: Economic Policy Institute, “State of Working America, 2011 Wealth Tables.”


Forbes 400

One of the most visible indicators of wealth inequality in the United States is the list of the 400 reichest Americans published by Forbes magazine every year. The total inflation-adjusted net worth of the Forbes 400 rose from $507 billion in 1995 to $1.62 trillion in 2007. The recession saw the total decline to $1.295 trillion in 2009 only to shoot up to $2 trillion in 2012.

Source: 1995-2008: Arthur B. Kennickell, “Ponds and Streams: Wealth and Income in the U.S., 1989 to 2007,” Federal Reserve Board Working Paper, January 7, 2009, Table A1, p. 55. 2009-10: Forbes Magazine press release via Business Wire. Additional Source: {a href=””}{/a) Adjusted for inflation using CPI-U.


Racial Wealth Divide

Wealth inequality becomes particularly stark when we look at racial breakdowns. In 2010, according to the latest edition of the Economic Policy Institute’s The State of Working America, the typical white household had a net worth of about 20 times larger than the typical African American household and 75 times more than the typical Hispanic household.

Source: Edward N. Wolff, “Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze—an Update to 2007,” Levy Economics Institute of Bard College Working Paper No. 589, March 2010, Tables 10 and 11.


Personal Savings

Over recent decades, with incomes for most Americans stagnant, typical American families saved less, and wealth inequality increased. We now know that much of the economic growth of recent years was fueled by unsustainable levels of household spending and debt. The U.S. Personal Savings Rate declined from 10.9 percent in 1982 to 1.4 percent in 2005, before rising back to 7.2 percent in 2012. The sharp rise in saving since 2007 reflects cutbacks in household spending after the Great Recession hit.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Income and Product Accounts, Table 2.1, Personal Income and Its Disposition, line 34.