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By Lucinda Shen
June 21, 2016

The 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement may have directed its rage about income inequality at the top 1% of U.S. earners who controlled a vast share of wealth—but there’s another social class that can claim to have even deeper pockets.

While the top 1% claimed just under 11% of the U.S.’s riches in 2014, the upper middle class now controls about 52.1% of America’s income, according to a study by Stephen Rose the Urban Institute.

“Any discussion of inequality that is limited to the 1% misses a lot of the picture because it ignores the large inequality between the growing upper middle class and the middle and lower middle classes,” Rose wrote.

It’s that growing difference rather than the schism between the upper class and lower middle class that is the source of hostility and disenfranchisement regarding U.S. income inequality. It is also this divide that has led to the rise of political outsiders such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in this election cycle, Rose noted.

“People in the middle class interact more with the upper middle class than they do with the very rich, and they may have stronger feelings of losing ground to the upper middle class versus their feelings about the inequality due to the huge income increases of those in the top one-tenth of 1% of the income ladder,” Rose wrote.

The upper middle class, according to the paper, is defined as a family of three earning between $100,000 to $349,999 annually in 2014. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Internal Revenue Services, the top 1% earned at least $428,713 in 2013.

 

This group of upper middle class households has more than doubled in size over the past 35 years, from 12.9% in 1979, to 29.4% in 2014—the second largest demographic behind the middle class, which accounts for 32% of the population and controls 25.8% of the wealth.

“This difference has a physical dimension, in that most metropolitan areas differ greatly by the size and price of the homes in their neighborhoods and comm unities. We try to limit segregation by race or ethnicity, but segregation by income (which is growing) is accepted as a fact of life.”

Rose, the author of the report, also noted one more interesting trend. While all other income levels experienced a pay raise between 1979 and 2014, the bottom 5% of earners actually saw their income fall by 12% in the same period.

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