From Multinational Monitor, May 2003:
Multinational Monitor’s Interview with Edward Wolff: Professor of economics at New York University
“The Wealth Divide The Growing Gap in the United States Between the Rich and the Rest”.
MM: What portion of the wealth is owned by the upper groups?
The top 5 percent own more than half of all wealth.
In 1998, they owned 59 percent of all wealth.
In another way, the top 5 percent had more wealth than the remaining 95 percent of the population, collectively.
The top 20 percent owns over 80 percent of all wealth. In 1998, it owned 83 percent of all wealth.
MM: Where does that leave the bottom tiers?
The bottom 20 percent basically have zero wealth. They either have no assets, or their debt equals or exceeds their assets. The bottom 20 percent has typically accumulated no savings.
A household in the middle — the median household — has wealth of about $62,000. If you consider that the top 1 percent of households’ average wealth is $12.5 million, you can see what a difference there is in the distribution.
MM: What happens when you disaggregate the data by race?
The average African-American family has about 60 percent of the income as the average white family.
The average African-American family has only 18 percent of the wealth of the average white family.
Is poverty the result of laziness, lack of resources, or unethical systems?
In an article titled “Poll: Fewer Americans Blame Poverty on the Poor” by Seth Freed Wessler, Americans took a poll to determine the blame for poverty.
Two important conclusions:
“Leslie McCall, Ph.D., a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies inequality and public opinion, says that Americans have held on to 90s era stigma about family safety-net programs, while becoming more invested in opportunity-building policies.” Further, that, “Concerns about inequality, or poverty, are not associated with an increase in support for traditional forms of safety net like welfare,” McCall says. “But they do associate with increased support for spending in education, increased earnings for people at the bottom or the middle, and access to jobs. People look around and see that conditions are not a result of individuals, but of structural problems.”