American Sauce: This is rich vs. poor
May 16th, 2011
03:39 PM ET
12 years ago

American Sauce: This is rich vs. poor

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 Rich:
- 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 Poor:
- 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

Filed under: American Sauce • Congress • Democrats • Republicans
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Jim

    This is the basic issue facing our country today. Let's get it out in the open. If we get to the point where 50% of our population is hungry and has no medical care are we still the greatest nation on earth? I think not! I don't believe in a total welfare state, but we have to take care of our own. We are all Americans, rich and poor.

    May 16, 2011 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  2. Blue19

    What astounds me is how no one has held a single republican accountable for the statement :lower taxes for the wealthy creates jobs. I fail to see how providing more funding to the already rich (not well off) is going to stimulate the economy and yet it's the tact taken by everyone that opposes bringing taxes in line with what they were, even under the Reagan era.

    May 16, 2011 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  3. The Other Michael in Houston

    No duh CNN. We know this is going on. The problem is, no one really cares about the disparity. When the politicians acutally start giving a damn about the American people instead of the next election cycle, then things will "change". This is not a Republican versus Democrat problem, as much of you would like to think. Democrats, who are supposed to be the advocates for the poor and middle class, could care less about the poor or middle class.....until election time. As for the Republicans, they dont care about the middle income and the poor, as long as they keep giving away money to their contributors, nothing will change. None of these politicians, from the White House down to your local mayor could give a rats a– about you, your life, you expenses etc. Gas prices are high because they know you will buy gas, so that circus of a hearing was a waste of time. All those democrats who called themselves "putting the oil company execs on notice", where is your bill to end tax breaks, better yet why hasn't the President used exective privilage to end those tax breaks, he used it to invade Libya! Why hasn't any Republican submitted a bill to end the tax breaks for the rich? Because they dont care about you! They get you hyped up about the President's Birth certificate etc but never give you a plan to make your life better. So all of you who support these same tired retreads who care nothing about the you execpt when it is time for elections, are bigger idiots than them. You all deserve what you get!

    May 16, 2011 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  4. spamtrap

    It breaks down this way...
    Republicans want the rich to stay rich.
    Democrats want the poor to stay poor.
    While all of this is happening, we the people, in general, are screwed.

    May 16, 2011 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  5. spamtrap

    It breaks down this way...
    Republicans want the rich to stay rich.
    Democrats want the poor to stay poor.
    While all of this is happening, we the people, in general, are sc re we d.

    May 16, 2011 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  6. Can we have a calm conversation

    Let's have all the facts. And let's not use inappropriate leading words like "get". How about profile of income by top and bottom quintiles, taxes paid by each, govt benefits received by each and charitable contributions by each as a starter.

    May 16, 2011 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
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