Who Are Americans? Interactive Exercises


Who Are the 1 Percent?

Starting in 2011, the Occupy movement drew Americans’ attention to income inequality, arguing that current economic policies help Wall Street firms and the richest 1 percent of Americans, rather than the other 99 percent. These data show that the incomes of the top 1 percent have indeed increased much more rapidly than the rest of the population, but also that “the 1 percent” aren’t all Wall Street financiers.


Which group has seen the most growth in after-tax income since 1979? Which group’s after-tax income has remained the most constant?
2. About what percentage more in after-tax income does the top 1 percent have in 2007 compared with 1979? About what percentage more in after-tax income does the lowest quintile have in 2007 compared with 1979?


3. What are the three most common occupations of people in the top 1 percent? What occupation is least common among members of this group? Are you surprised by this? Explain.
Professor Larry M. Bartels of Princeton University studies income inequality in the United States and its relationship to elections and policy choice. This article from the Washington Post summarizes some of Bartels’s findings.

Looking at the graph, what was the income growth rate for lowest income earners under Democratic administrations? Under Republican presidencies?
What was the income growth rate for the top 5 percent of the American population (the 95th percentile) under Republican administrations? Under Democratic presidencies?
How would you summarize the trends of economic growth depicted in this graph? Do these trends surprise you? Why or why not? What factors do you think contribute to the different trends under Democratic and Republican administrations?
If average income has risen for all groups over the past 30 years, does it matter if some groups have their income increase more rapidly than others? Why or why not?
Democrats have often blamed Republican tax cuts for making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Should the government impose higher taxes on the rich to reduce income inequality? Why or why not?

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