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The following facts are part of 101 Economic Facts that Every American Should Know

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 ?    What is wealth and how is it different from income?
 ?    Can people have "negative wealth"?
 ?    How concentrated is wealth in the United States?
 ?    How much wealth does it take to be in the top 10% of the population? The top 1%?
 ?    What is the median wealth of U.S. households?
 ?    How has wealth concentration changed during the last 20 years?
 ?    How does wealth vary according to race?
 ?    How does the wealth of the typical family in the bottom 80% of the population compare to the wealth of a family in the top 1%?
 ?    Who own stocks and bonds in America?
 ?    How many millionaires are there in the United States? How many billionaires?
 ?    Who are some of the richest people in America?
 ?    How does Bill Gates' wealth compare to the rest of the population?



 

 ?   What is wealth and how is it different from income?

Wealth is private assets (such as savings and property) minus debts. It is what you own minus what you owe. In other words, it is net assets. Income, on the other hand, refers to wages, salary, interest that you earn, Social Security benefits, etc. 
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 ?   Can people have "negative wealth"?

Yes, almost one fifth of American have no assets or they have negative assets -- that is, their debts are larger than their assets.
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 ?   How concentrated is wealth in the United States?

 

Distribution of Net Worth, 1998

Source: Edward N. Wolff, "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership, 1983-1998," April 2000. Table 2. Available on the website of the Jerome Levy Economics Institute at www.levy.org/docs/wrkpap/papers/300.html 
  • The top 10% own 71% of all private wealth.
  • The top 1% now own more than the bottom 90%.
  • Among the industrialized nations, the U.S. has the highest concentration of individual wealth -- roughly 3 times that of the No. 2 nation, Germany. (UN Human Development Report, 1998)

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 ?   How much wealth does it take to be in the top 10% of the population? The top 1%?

In 1998, the last year for which figures are available, it took over $250,000 to be in the top 10% of wealth holders. It took over $3,000,000 to reach the top 1%.

Household Net Worth, 1998

Population Threshold Average Net Worth
Top 1% $3,352,100 $10,204,000
Next 4%   $1,441,000
Next 5% $475,600 $623,500
Next 10% $257,700 $344,900
Fourth 20%   $161,300
Middle 20%   $61,000
Bottom 40% (Negative) $1,100

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 ?   What is the median wealth of U.S. households?
 
Median Wealth in the U.S. in 1998 dollars
1989 1992 1995 1998
$58,400 $49,900 $48,800 $60,700

Source: Edward N. Wolff, "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership, 1983-98

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 ?   How has wealth concentration changed during the last 20 years?

In the 22 years between 1976 and 1998, the share of the nation's private wealth held by the top 1% nearly doubled, going from 22% to 38%. During those two decades, the size of the overall "wealth pie" grew, but the ownership of that wealth is now more concentrated than at any time since the 1920s.

The following table shows the change in relative shares of wealth from 1983 to 1998.

Changes in Wealth Ownership

  1983 1989 1992 1995 1998 
Top 
1%
33.8% 37.4% 37.2% 38.5% 38.1%
Next 
4%

22.3

21.6 22.8 21.8 21.3
Next 
5%
12.1 11.6 11.8 11.5 11.5
Next
 10%

13.1

13.0

12.0

12.1

12.5
Next
 20%

12.6

12.3

11.5

11.4

11.9
Middle
 20%

5.2

4.8

4.4

4.5

4.5
Bottom
 40%

0.9

-0.7

0.4

0.2

0.2
           

 

The following chart shows the change in average household net worth over the same period.

Change in Average Household Net Worth, 1983-98


Source:
Edward N. Wolff, "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership, 1983-1998," April 2000. Table 3. http://www.levy.org/docs/wrkpap/papers/300.html

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 ?   How does wealth vary according to race?

 

Racial Wealth Gap, 1983-98

Median Net Worth

1983

1989

1992

1995

1998

White $71,500 $84,900 $71,300 $65,200 $81,700
African-American $4,800 $2,200 $12,000 $7,900 $10,000
Hispanic $2,800 $1,800 $4,300 $5,300 $3,000

Since most wealth for African-American and Hispanic families is held in the form of housing, the racial wealth gap is much worse when housing is excluded from the calculations and only "financial wealth" is considered.
Median
Financial Wealth
  
White $19,900 $26,900 $21,900 $19,300 $37,600
African-American $0 $0 $200 $200 $1,200
Hispanic $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Note: Financial Wealth is Net Worth minus the value of owner-occupied housing. 
 
Source: Edward N. Wolff, "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership, 1983-1998," April 2000.  http://www.levy.org/docs/wrkpap/papers/300.html

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 ?   How does the wealth of the typical family in the bottom 80% of the population compare to the wealth of a family in the top 1%?

If the financial wealth of the average family in the bottom 80% of families were represented by a bar graph one inch high, the bar representing the financial wealth of the average family in the top 1% would be 33 feet high.

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 ?   Who own stocks and bonds in America?

About half of American households own stock either directly or through a mutual fund. However, over 86 percent of the value of all stocks and mutual funds, including pensions, was held by the top 10 percent of households. In 1998, the top 1 percent of Americans owned 47.7 percent of all stock, while the bottom 80 percent owned 4.1 percent. 

 

Between 1989 and 1998, nearly 35 percent of all stock market gains went to the top 1 percent of shareholders. 64 percent of American households have stock holdings worth $5,000 or less, or own no stock at all. 

Source: Economic Policy Institute, The State of Working America 2002-03, pp. 286-289

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 ?   How many millionaires are there in the United States? 
 

Number of Millionaires in the U.S.

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
1,800,000 2,060,000 2,480,000 2,180,000 2,220,000
 
Sources: Merrill Lynch / Gemini Consulting, World Wealth Report 2000, Figure 3, and 
Merrill Lynch / Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, World Wealth Report 2001

How many billionaires?

Number of Billionaires in the U.S.

1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2003
179 220 239 307 298 266 228
 
Source: Forbes 400 website: http://www.forbes.com/2002/09/13/rich400land.html

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 ?   Who are some of the richest people in America?
  

Richest Individuals and Families in the U.S., 2002

Name Net Worth Source
Bill Gates $43 billion Microsoft
Warren Buffett $36 billion Berkshire Hathaway
Paul Allen $21 billion Microsoft
Alice Walton $19 billion Inheritance: Wal-Mart
Helen Walton $19 billion Inheritance: Wal-Mart
Jim Walton $19 billion Inheritance: Wal-Mart
John Walton $19 billion Inheritance: Wal-Mart
S. Robson Walton $19 billion Inheritance: Wal-Mart
Lawrence Ellison $15 billion Oracle Corp.
Steven Ballmer $12 billion Microsoft
Michael Dell $11 billion Dell Computer
John Werner Kluge $10 billion Metromedia
Forrest E. Mars $10 billion Inheritance: Mars Candy
Jacqueline Mars $10 billion Inheritance: Mars Candy
John Franklyn Mars $10 billion Inheritance: Mars Candy

 
In 1982 the wealthiest 400 individuals in the "Forbes 400" owned $92 billion. By 2000 their wealth increased to over $1.2 trillion.

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 ?   How does Bill Gates' wealth compare to the rest of the population?

Bill Gates alone has as much wealth as the bottom 40% of U.S. households.

 

 

 
 

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