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  • Occupy Wall Street targeted rising inequality, as many did in the Progressive Era.

    Occupy Wall Street targeted rising inequality, as many did in the Progressive Era. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 June 2019

“Every day we move closer to oligarchy,” warned Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders based on this analysis, while calling for a “mass movement of working people to stop the shift of wealth to the one percent.”

The top 1 percent in the United States (U.S.) increased its total wealth by $21 trillion between 1989 and 2018, while the bottom 50 percent actually saw its net worth decreased by US$900 billion over the same period, according to an analysis made by the People's Policy Project.

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“We have the worst inequality in this country since the 1920s. Three wealthiest people in the U.S. have as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent. That's three people have as much wealth as 160 million people,” congresswoman and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Pramila Jayapal tweeted.

The figures are based off a new data series called the Distributive Financial Accounts (DFA) published by the U.S. Federal Reserve. This indicator combines the Financial Accounts (Z1), which provide economy-wide aggregates for nearly every kind of asset and liability available; and the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), which is a household survey done every three years that accounts for the same aggregates in the Z1.

The founder of the left-wing think tank People's Policy Project, Matt Bruenig,  broke down the DFA data series and found that, overall, "the top one percent owns nearly US$30 trillion of assets while the bottom half owns less than nothing, meaning they have more debts than they have assets."

Running the series back to 1989, the first year the modern SCF was administered, Bruenig came up with the “eye-popping” figures that give light to U.S. inequality and a widening divide between the richest tiers in society and the poorest. 

“Every day we move closer to oligarchy,” warned Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders based on this analysis, while calling for a “mass movement of working people to stop the shift of wealth to the one percent.”

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