Capitol Hill (CNN) – President Obama rails against "tax cuts for the wealthy." Republicans passionately push back, saying the president wants to hike taxes on "job creators." Meanwhile, the spending cut knife and partisan debate hover over Medicare and Medicaid, two programs critical to many of the poor. Neither side admits it, but the massive budget battle of 2012 hinges on the age-old debate of rich versus poor.
The twist now: the gap between rich and poor in America is growing dramatically. Yet, few in Congress or the media tackle the uncomfortable topic directly.
Not so, CNN's American Sauce. This week we lay out exactly where things stand for rich and poor in the United States, the status of the middle class (what is the middle class?) and we have blunt conversations with a multimillionaire and a woman of more humble means who are neighbors in New York City.
The point is not to blame either side, but to take a sober look at a tremendous issue in politics and American life.
Comment below. Listen here.
Or keep reading for some key statistics on rich and poor in the U.S.
(All figures from the Census Bureau, unless otherwise stated.)
– The richest 20 percent of Americans get 50.3 percent of the country's income.
– The portion of wealth for the rich has consistently gone up: In 1999, that figure was 49.4 percent. In 1989, it was 46.2 percent. In 1979, 44.2 percent.
– You are in the richest 20 percent, by the way, if those in your household make over $100,000.
– The number of millionaires in America went up 8 percent in 2010, according to the Spectrem Group, to approximately 8.4 million millionaires. That figure also jumped up 16 percent in 2009, following a drop in 2008.
– The poorest 20 percent of Americans get 3.4 percent of the country's income.
– The portion of wealth for the poor has consistently declined: In 1999, the number was 3.6 percent. In 1989, it was 3.8 percent. In 1979, 4.1 percent.
– You are in the poorest 20 percent if you make less than $20,453 in your household.
– Some 43.6 million Americans live in poverty. That is the record high for the 51 years the U.S. has recorded poverty data.
– The number of Americans in poverty jumped 9.5 percent in 2009 alone (the most recent year for which we have data).
– Overall, 14.3 percent of Americans live in poverty.
– You are in poverty, if you have a family of four and total income is under $22,314. For an individual, the poverty line is $11,136.
Disparity on the Rise
– By one key measure, income disparity in the U.S. has increased 40 percent in the past 30 years.
– Our measure: The Gini Index. A Gini Index of "0" means perfect equality in income. An index of "1" means total inequality, so one person has all the income.
– US now: 0.469. (2009 data, the most recent available)
– US in 1998: 0.393
– US in 1989: 0.362
– U.S. in 1979: 0.335