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Monday, September 14, 2009

The top one percent of wealthiest households in the U.S. saw almost unprecedented income growth between 2002 and 2007, with income rising ten times faster than it did for the bottom 90 percent of households. As a group, the richest one percent of households saw their incomes grow by 62 percent during this period, after adjusting for inflation. By comparison, the bottom 90 percent of Americans (those with annual incomes below $110,000) experienced income growth of only four percent.

According to a new analysis of IRS data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez (summarized by CBPP), income growth skewed in favor of the wealthy during the 1920’s, but then turned towards the middle class during the post-WWII era. As the graph below shows, in the early 1980’s income growth again began to concentrate in the upper tiers of American households.

Income gains have been even more pronounced among those at the very top of the income scale. The CBPP report shows that incomes in the top one-tenth of one percent of U.S. households grew by about 94 percent ($3.5 million per household) from 2002 to 2007.

The report does not show the impact of the current economic recession. Even though it is expected that income concentration will fall in 2008-09, once the recovery begins economists predict income inequality trends will continue.

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