In the United States, the 400 richest individuals now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population and the three richest own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent, while pervasive poverty means one in five households have zero or negative net worth.
Those are just several of the striking findings of Billionaire Bonanza 2017, a new report (pdf) published Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) that explores in detail the speed with which the US is becoming “a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power.”
“Over recent decades, an incredibly disproportionate share of America’s income and wealth gains has flowed to the top of our economic spectrum. At the tip of that top sit the nation’s richest 400 individuals, a group that Forbes magazine has been tracking annually since 1982,” write IPS’s Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie, the report’s authors. “Americans at the other end of our economic spectrum, meanwhile, watch their wages stagnate and savings dwindle.”
Collins and Hoxie are quick to note that the vast gulf that currently exists between the rich and everyone else is not the product of some inexplicable “natural phenomenon.” It is, rather, the result of “unfair economic policies that benefit those at the top at the expense of those at the bottom.”
Based on data recently made public by the Forbes 400 list and the Federal Reserve’s annual “Survey of Consumer Finances,” Billionaire Bonanza examines in detail the principal beneficiaries of America’s “deeply unbalanced economy”: the mega-rich.
“The wealthiest 25 individuals in the United States today own $1 trillion in combined assets,” the report notes. “These 25, a group equivalent to the active roster of a major league baseball team, hold more wealth than the bottom 56 percent of the US population combined, 178 million people.”
The top 25 list features billionaires who have attained their vast riches through a variety of means, from inheritance to investing to founding a corporate giant like Amazon or Google. What unites these enormously wealthy individuals — aside from the fact that they are all white — is that they just keep getting richer, decade after decade.