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Chena's Corner: For the First Time in a Century, the Top 10% of Americans Own 50% of the Wealth

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Here's a link to the podcast and transcript, and an excerpt from the September 12, 2013, "Diane Rehm Show," entitled:

Implications of America's New Gilded Age

MR. TOM GJELTEN 10:06:54

Thanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. A new study released this week revealed that for the first time in a century the top 10 percent of U.S. earners took in more than half of the country's total income.

MR. TOM GJELTEN 10:07:09

Joining me in the studio to talk about how America's growing income gap affects our society, politics and economy is Dante Chinni of The Wall Street Journal and American University. Stephanie Coontz of the Council on Contemporary Families is on the phone, and Thomas Edsall of Columbia University joins us from a studio at Columbia. Good morning, folks.


Good morning.





GJELTEN 10:07:33

And a little later, we'll be taking your phone calls and reading your emails and tweets. We want to hear your thoughts. Does it really matter that income inequality is on the rise again? Our number is 800-433-8850. Our email is So, Dante Chinni, this week an important study came out showing how income is distributed in the United States now in the aftermath of this Great Recession. Give us the highlights of that study.

CHINNI 10:08:07

Well, I mean, the study showed that for the first time in, as you say, in a century really, you have the top 10 percent with 50 percent of the wealth. And it's something -- we kind of went through this period 100 years ago. We had this period where we had better equality. We had a rising middle class. And there are questions, I think, now with this study about what this means for the future of the middle class in the United States.

GJELTEN 10:08:35

Well, Thomas Edsall, what stands out for you in these data that came out this week?

EDSALL 10:08:40

Well, I think that the fact that 95 percent of the total gain in income went to the top 1 percent whereas only 4 percent of the gain went to the rest of all America basically was the really striking figure. These trends have been going on for quite a while. They've become acute in the post-recession period, the recovery period. And they really show a widening divide with the very top doing superbly and almost everyone else having a flatline kind of experience in the economy.

GJELTEN 10:09:20

As you say, this trend has been going on for a while, but now we're looking at it in the context of the aftermath of the Great Recession. And, Stephanie Coontz, what, in your judgment has happened in these last five years that seems to have accelerated this trend that was already evident before?

COONTZ 10:09:44

Well, of course, one big thing is the recovery in the stock market. And contrary to what most people think, 90 percent of stocks are controlled by a very small percentage of people and that, increasingly, the stock market seems to be completely out of whack with what's happening to real people's jobs. You know, in fact, it often bumps up when you lay people off. And as a historian, I just want to underline what Thomas Edsall just said, that in the 1960s, the top 1 percent got just 10 percent of the gains, and the bottom 90 percent got 65 percent.

COONTZ 10:10:18

So this really is a change, and it's a long term change. I think it's a mistake to just think of it in terms of the recession. It's actually a 30-year process that has turned around all of the trends that we had after the Great Depression and the move toward greater equality and greater sense of community among the rich as well as the poor. I think the social implications of this are profound at all levels of society.

GJELTEN 10:10:44

Well, Stephanie, you know, it's not just since the 1930s. I mean, some of these data suggest that we're back in a situation that we last saw 100 years ago. That was back in the era of the turn of the century and the era of the Gilded Age and the really meta-rich when they first emerged as kind of a super class.

GJELTEN 10:11:07

And as you say, you know, throughout the 20th century, there was an effort to sort of mitigate the worst effects of that period of our history. How do you explain or what's the significance of sort of nullifying all that had been done over the last 100 years to sort of put the society back on a more equal footing?

COONTZ 10:11:32

Well, I think that we can get a very good idea of that if we just look back at a moment at that Gilded Age. That was a period, as you said, when you've got the robber barons. You've got this complete celebration of wealth, a blaming of everyone who wasn't getting ahead saying that the whole social Darwinist thing, saying it's their fault and we have no social responsibility for them, a decline in social trust, which I think we've been seeing in the last 30 years, tremendous, tremendous misery at the bottom of the level, insecurity in the middle, and even changes in things like religion and politics.

COONTZ 10:12:09

Before the Gilded Age, evangelical religions talked about the importance of combating social sins, not just solitary ones, of building a community, not just your own individual family. And it turned inward during the Gilded Age. So what we did after the progressive era with the New Deal, with the reforms of the '60s, we began to actually recreate an earlier period and a better period -- because we'd gotten rid of a lot of the racism and sexism -- of a sense that we're all in this together.

COONTZ 10:12:46

And that has been reversed essentially in the last 30 years with terrible effects for families, for society as at large, for our media, for political representation, which we've found now represents the interests of the rich much more consistently than it did in earlier periods of the 20th century.

GJELTEN 10:13:06

Dante, I mean, the implications of these trends are huge. But before we go into all these implications, let's stay, for a moment, grounded in the data and make sure that we're representing it correctly. So give us a little bit more of a granular look at what we know right now about the distribution of wealth and income in the United States.

CHINNI 10:13:29

Well, some of what I do with the American Communities Project is we look at America broken into these different types of place. And using that as a filter, we can kind of look at what's happening to them economically, politically, culturally. The one thing we did that was very interesting, we compared 1980 to 2010, so going back much further, obviously, than the Great Recession, and looked at median household income in these types of place that we'd identified in the United States using demographics and economic data, political data.

CHINNI 10:13:54

And when we did that, we had 12 kinds of place at the time. We recrunched the numbers. And when we did that, we had 12 kinds of place in the United States. Of those 12 communities, only five, between 1980 and 2010, had seen any kind of increase in median household income. That's adjusted for inflation. That's significant.

CHINNI 10:14:15

And now, those places where they had seen some kind of uptick were generally places that were around metropolitan areas. Rural places, in particular, are really struggling because, look, it is true, I think, there are these large cultural phenomena going on.

CHINNI 10:14:51

But the thing, I think, that's really pushing a lot of what's going on in the country is economic, and you have the decline of good-paying jobs, of manufacturing jobs. And, you know, they were hard jobs, but they paid well. And they've disappeared, and that's made life very difficult. Also, automation -- there are just fewer jobs available for people who don't have a lot of education and a lot of good skills training.

GJELTEN 10:15:11

Thomas Edsall, if this income gap is caused by demographic changes in the U.S. population, if it's caused by changes in the global economy, automation, et cetera, it raises the question of how much we can really do about it. And you had a really interesting column this week where you took on the question of whether the government, even if it wanted to, could really do anything to reduce inequality. What did you find, Thomas?

EDSALL 10:15:19

Well, really, I think, thinking about this that there has been kind of a dynamic taking place. The economy itself has been moving in directions that foster inequality. There's been a hollowing out of the middle level jobs. They've been outsourced or they've been automated, and global competition has really forced companies to push wages down while they try to keep profits as high as possible.

EDSALL 10:15:50

At the same time, the political system has done a number of things that have helped foster inequality. One, the lower capital gains rate, as Stephanie pointed out, stocks are the real source of income for the wealthy compared to the average person and capital gains are the kind of profits you make when you buy and sell stocks.

EDSALL 10:16:13

Those tax levels have been kept way down and has been a huge advantage for those on the top. Financial deregulation has had the effect of creating all kinds of new mechanisms that banks that used to be traditionally providing just mortgages now can engage to further their income at the top and, as the recession showed, at great expense for the general public.

EDSALL 10:16:39

So you've had a combination of politics and economics and also a kind of intellectual capture of those elites. If you look at both Democratic and Republican elites during the '80s and '90s and early 2000s, there was a growing acceptance of free market economics. You saw this in the Clinton administration with the deregulatory policies. You saw this in the Reagan administration. At the top, there has been a much more willingness to agree to policies that basically benefit a winner-take-all kind of mentality. And all these factors have worked together.

GJELTEN 10:17:28

But, Thomas, we live in a democracy, and everybody has a vote. And there have been these demographic changes, and these new demographic groups have votes. I mean, how can these policies be explained simply by decisions that are made, as you say, at the top?

EDSALL 10:17:44

That's the profound question, in a way. Why hasn't democracy, in a sense, with one man or one person, one vote, resulted in a effort by policymakers to ameliorate the kind of inequalities that have been growing? One is that actually surveys show that the public doesn't really want to impose high taxes on or actually give hugely more benefits to those on the bottom.

EDSALL 10:18:14

They basically want more jobs, and they want an improvement in their life based on a market that helps them. That's a very hard thing for the political system to do. It may well involve a major intervention in the economy.

GJELTEN 10:18:36

Right. Thomas Edsall is professor of journalism at Columbia University. We're talking about the growing income gap. And when we come back after this short break, I want to raise the question of whether inequality really matters to Americans. Stay tuned.

[Please follow the link above to the remainder of the show transcript and podcast.]


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Submitted by Alexa on

of Sweden and the United States, they always prefer -- without knowing which country it is, they always prefer Sweden, and they think it's us, according to historian Stephanie Coontz.

[Tom Edsall tries to sell the notion that Americans "don't care about income inequality--they just want jobs."]

I wish that I could embed the audio (podcast). However, the podcast is accessible by following the link "Implications of America's New Gilded Age" first from my Quick Hit, then from the link with the same title, from the top of the NPR website.

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Submitted by Alexa on

Taft-Hartley Plans Have No Legal Way To Be Eligible For Obamacare Subsidies: White House Official

. . . On Friday, a White House official said the Treasury Department has crafted a letter explaining how it "does not see a legal way" for Taft-Hartley planholders to receive tax credits from the Affordable Care Act marketplace, along with the previously-afforded benefit of tax breaks attached to employer-provided health insurance.

The official also stressed that the administration would work with affected individuals and employers to find options through the Obamacare marketplaces. . . .

. . . According to a Politico Q&A released Thursday, approximately 20 million people utilize Taft-Hartley plans. . . .

20 Million People? Clearly, they have the leverage.

So let's see what the AFL-CIO does with it!

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Submitted by Alexa on

videos to several unions, but my "Tweets" appear to be filtered out (at least, I have yet to ever have a single one appear).

Do you have any insights as to whether they are using Twitter "filters," etc.

If they are, is there any way that you know of, to get around this, please?

I'm convinced that is many of the union rank-and-file members actually "saw" many of the MSM and blog posts about the toxic nature of the ACA, there would be a very major revolt against this legislation.

The problem is penetrating "their bubble," so to speak. ;-)

For instance, since the "west coast longshoremen" really are progressive, if I had their "handle," maybe I could Tweet to them, and they would be willing to Retweet.

I could possibly find their Twitter handle, if I can get their Local Name, Number--just more identifying information.

It would be worth a try, IMO.

Submitted by hipparchia on


where are you trying to make your tweets "appear?" in a post here at corrente? in the twitter box in the sidebar here at corrente? in your own twitter timeline? in other people's twitter timelines? on other blogs somewhere?

first: you can't tweet something unless you (1) have a twitter account AND (2) are logged into your twitter account at the time you want to tweet something.

second: depending on where you want your tweets to "appear," you have to do different things. so, if you can answer my question above, i can probably give you some how-to tips....

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Submitted by Alexa on

and post whether or not I have any luck.

Long story short:

I tried MANY times prior to 2012 election, to "get in" articles and posts--always in a polite manner--to the AFL-CIO Twitter Account (which I follow). But I NEVER saw any of my "Tweets" appear on their feed.

Anyhoo, I think I learned a bit (maybe) after the "Dog Pack Mule" Tweet that Ives Smith RT''d, about "how" Twitter works--I AM a major novice on this matter, LOL!

So, I'll Tweet a couple of pieces related to the ACA, and one regarding the AFL-CIO's Resolution 54 this weekend, and see if they actually show up in the Twitter Feed for ILWU Local 63.

I'll post the "test results" here, afterwards.

I've also never been able to get one of my OWS Tweets to show up in the Corrente Twitter feed. Of course, there IS a limit to how long I can actually watch a feed.

[Ironically, I often see "priceman's" feeds show up here on the Corrente feed--one yesterday, I believe.]

Anyway, I appreciate your help on this . . .

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Submitted by Alexa on

Sorry, I truly didn't mean it as a "slam" against Corrente. ;-) I think the feed here is excellent.

The gist of my comment was meant to say that I'm probably at fault--that's why I referenced priceman's "Tweets" showing up in the feed. From what I've seen, he is a very sophisticated and prolific user of Tweets.

IOW, it MUST BE that I'm not doing something correctly.

And that's why I'm trying to figure out "what" I'm doing wrong, LOL!

Submitted by lambert on

... the twitter feed in the Corrente sidebar is whatever tweets have a hash code #ows. And I could probably be more sophisticated than that.

Submitted by hipparchia on

if you want your tweets to show up in the corrente twitter feed, these four characters - #ows - need to be somewhere in the text of your tweet. and yes, there does seem to be a lag sometimes.

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Submitted by Alexa on

in their recent Resolution 54.

I hope that all the "factions of the progressive community" will come together to celebrate and support this Resolution.

I was quite disappointed in their very "narrow focus on mainly union-related issues with the ACA."

But, at least some of the leaders of the more progressive unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO resisted the pressure from their "union bosses" and the Administration "to be mum on this subject."

My own public employee's union--AFGE--could also exert quite a bit of pressure from the national office. Thank goodness, though, in the late 70's, 80's and very early 90's, many unions had not yet "sold out." [From what I've seen on C-Span lately though, the AFGE does appear to be a bit more "squishy" on some issues.]

OT--just heard that CNN is going to "go around the country," shilling for the PPACA (my words).

CNN says that they will send out reporters all over the country to "cover the kickoff" in October.

I have the dreadful feeling that the corporate media en masse will paint the picture that "the PPACA is the best thing since sliced bread." (no matter what the reality)

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Submitted by Rainbow Girl on

That is a big score for the good guys and girls: thank you and Mr. Alexa for getting this here!

Larry must have believed he would lose and he did not want to lose by being declared a loser. Or Obama told him to withdraw his name because he is now radioactive (unhelpful to Obama's increasingly decaying shiny image) ... Either way: Yay!

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Submitted by Alexa on

Social Security hike to be tiny

By ASSOCIATED PRESS | 10/13/13 8:52 AM EDT

For the second straight year, millions of Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees can expect historically small increases in their benefits come January.

Preliminary figures suggest a benefit increase of roughly 1.5 percent, which would be among the smallest since automatic increases were adopted in 1975, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. . . .

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Submitted by Alexa on

Warning flags for the Tea Party and Democrats in 2014

"Democratic pols had been gleefully anticipating the negative impact the Republican Party would incur as a result of the recent government shutdown debacle," Charlie Cook wrote in a National Journal column Tuesday. "Now Democrats are shaking their heads over signs that much of the advantage they might have gained has been effectively neutralized" by Obamacare's problems. . .

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win control in the Senate. The two most endangered Senate Democrats running for re-election are Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who is likely to face Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, and Mark Begich of Alaska. The GOP also is favored to pick up seats where Democratic incumbents are retiring in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.

In the House, Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats to regain control. . . .

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Submitted by Alexa on

Hopefully voters will reward him the same way that TN voters did Rep Ford--he lost.

(I am a member of the "left faith community." However, nothing is more insulting to me than to see any politician of any party "run on faith." Starting with FP Clinton's of the "Charitable Choice Act," Democrats have been leading the way to expand social services into the realm of "religion." It needs to stop.)

A Guide to Charitable Choice

Harold Ford actually filmed a TV ad sitting in a church pew. He literally ran to the right of the now incumbent Senator, Bob Corker. That was before he went on to become the Chair of the DLC.

Pryor invokes Bible in new ad

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Submitted by Alexa on

A bit pushed, so here's a link to Stabenow's "Principles and Values" statement declaring her membership in the DLC, her participation in the "Senate New Democrat Coalition," and her endorsement of the DLC's "Hyde Park Declaration"--their right-wing manifesto.

In the meantime, below is link to a Nation piece about the possible new cuts (in addition to the $4 Billion proposed by the Senate, if I understand it correctly).

Better than the House proposal, but still . . .

Why Is a Senate Democrat Agreeing to Another $8 Billion in Food Stamp Cuts?

Greg Kaufmann on December 5, 2013 - 11:43 PM ET

On the same day that President Obama eloquently described his vision of an economy defined by economic mobility and opportunity for all, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow was busy cutting a deal with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas to slice another $8 to $9 billion from food stamps (SNAP), according to a source close to the negotiations.

“One study shows that more than half of Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives,” said President Obama. “Think about that. This is not an isolated situation.… That’s why we have nutrition assistance or the program known as SNAP, because it makes a difference for a mother who’s working, but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids.”

Indeed it does, but the chairwoman consistently fails to get the memo. . . .

Time to "pluck the vine?"