Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Business
Economics

How Inequality Hurts the Economy

The gap between the rich and the rest makes for short recoveries

The public discussion about the widening gap between rich and poor hasn’t been this loud since the Great Depression. Warren Buffett has condemned the disparity, Occupy Wall Street has inveighed against it, President Barack Obama cites it to justify higher taxes on the wealthy. Much of the debate, though, has focused on inequality’s moral dimension. Somehow it just doesn’t seem right that so many Americans struggle while a handful prospers. What many are missing is the actual impact rising inequality is having on the U.S. economy. Hint: It isn’t good.

Since 1980 about 5 percent of annual national income has shifted from the middle class to the nation’s richest households. That means the wealthiest 5,934 households last year enjoyed an additional $650 billion beyond what they would have had if the economic pie had been divided as it was in 1980, according to Census Bureau data.