5 Wall-Punch Worthy Statistics About Wealth Inequality
As we enter a section of the year that is absolute personal economic carnage, money is on my mind. First is the gaping maw of consumerism gulping down full-mouthed swallows of bank account contents in the name of holiday gifts and travel. Not only do you have to purchase a brand new pressure cooker, you then have to pay for plane tickets in order to deliver it to your mom on Christmas morning.
As the year turns, the bloodied mass that was your bank account tries to crawl to safety, finding instead of sustenance, tax season. Something that, as a self-employed person, is basically an annual financial amputation. Meanwhile, some billionaire is in his little batcave, receiving baby-blood transfusions and making a senator wait on a call back as a power move. Obviously, there’s very different standards of living across the American wealth spectrum.
Here are five particularly infuriating facts to drive that home…
Three Men Are Richer Than Half of America
It turns out, if you’re trying to balance the scales, you don’t have to pinch and drop many people at all on one side. One concave dish would be filled to the brim with the entire bottom half of America’s economy, little fellas clinging to the edge to stay onboard in this visual metaphor. On the other side, you’d only need three people to not only reach equilibrium, but send their end clanging off the tabletop.
This is because these three are the smartest, hardest working men of all time — a trio of men who have personally earned every cent they’ve ever made. That’s an undeniable fact, like that the sky is blue or that boots taste like candy. (I am, of course, being incredibly facetious.) Still, just the worth of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos adds up to roughly $300 billion, a number that not only beats the roughly $250 billion held by the bottom half of the U.S. population, but allows a $50 billion buffer zone in case a couple of their investments go sour.
Since 2020, Two-Thirds of New Money Has Gone to the One Percent
So what’s the future look like? Not great for anyone who is reading this instead of having it dictated to them by one of their servants. (SERVANTS DO NOT READ THIS PART OUT LOUD: There are more of you than there are of them.) If you believe that this is the sort of thing that will work itself out in time, either because you’re violently optimistic or you were kicked by a mule as a child and have reasoning issues, I have bad news for you.
It’s plowing along at record pace. Even since just the year 2020, the richest one percent (cue Bernie Sanders impression) of the population has claimed roughly two-thirds of the new wealth generated in the world. Not something that suggests a good chance of upward financial mobility for the rest of us. It’s time to accept it: You’re never going to be a multi-millionaire, no matter how good your idea for a new kind of alarm clock is.
A 5-Percent Wealth Tax on Multi-Millionaires and Billionaires Would Produce $1.7 Trillion A Year
So, at this point it becomes pretty clear: When it comes to money, we don’t got it, and we’re not going to. Trying to make enough to compete with these ghouls is like walking into the World Series of Poker with a piggy bank. If only there was some sort of system by which the wealth of people would be appropriated for the good of all! Or at least, one that worked, instead of serving as a chess puzzle for talented accountants. Even just a five percent wealth tax on multi-millionaires and billionaires, barely a paper-thin slice off the big bean they’re hoarding, would, both metaphorically and literally, feed millions.
That five percent would come out to about $1.7 trillion a year. As in, more than a quarter of the United States’ entire fiscal spending of $6.13 trillion in 2023. That’s a measly 5 percent, though it might not seem measly to them, given that it’s still more than the 3.27 percent true tax rate Elon Musk paid on his $14 billion increase in wealth from 2014 to 2018. Meanwhile, as a sad little self-employed wordsmith, the government calculated that 24.2 percent of my income in 2022 was the necessary tithe. We’ll have to tell ourselves that it’s actually good for that money to basically not exist in the economy whatsoever, squirreled away in offshore accounts.
One in 18 People Make Less Than $6,380 A Year
Enough fist-shaking at the ivory tower window. Let’s see how bad things are down here in the fields. They are, in fact, very bad. Like, leg caught in a wood-thresher, mouth-full-of mud bad. People are so poor that we had to come up with a new kind of poor to categorize just how fucking poor they are. The statistical tranche referred to as “poverty” got too crowded. Now, it’s estimated that 1 in 18 Americans live in “deep poverty” meaning they make less than $6,380 a year, or for a family of four, less than $13,100 total.
Again, let me emphasize, this is specifically Americans, not including countries where cost of living is lower and countries we’d derisively refer to as “developing world.” Right here in the good ol’ U S of A, more than 5 percent of the population makes less money in an entire year than some rich asshole could make in 10 seconds selling their “beater” Rolex.
Smaug Wouldn’t Even Be in the Top 15 Richest People
I don’t want to leave you feeling totally hopeless, so let’s at least look at something with a modicum of fun to it. I mean, every bit of math attached to it is still bone-shatteringly sad, but at least there’s a fun fantasy creature involved. Specifically, one of the richest entities in all of fantasy, the dragon Smaug, the one that spends his days lying on a literal pile of hoarded gold. Well, for “fun,” Forbes calculated what Smaug’s net worth would be based on Tolkien’s descriptions, and it comes out to about $62 billion. As it stands today, not only would Smaug only be the 17th richest person in the world, Jeff Bezos would be almost lapping him at $114 billion, while Elon Musk triples his total at $180 billion.
I never thought dragons could make me sad, but here we are.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.