America's Wealth Gap at Record Level

New figures from the Federal Reserve show the rich in America pulling away from other income groups.
Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Imgaes

The rich get richer. Everybody else, not so much. The gap between the rich and every other income group in America has reached a record level, data from the Federal Reserve shows. 

"In 2013, the median wealth of the nation’s upper-income families ($639,400) was nearly seven times the median wealth of middle-income families ($96,500), the widest wealth gap seen in 30 years when the Federal Reserve began collecting these data," an analysis of the Fed's figures by the Pew Research Center concluded. 

Wealth is defined in the report as the value of a family's assets minus its debts. 

"America’s upper-income families have a median net worth that is nearly 70 times that of the country’s lower-income families, also the widest wealth gap between these families in 30 years," the report stated.

In categorizing households, Pew adjusted household income to account for the size of a family. "Middle-income families are families whose size-adjusted income is between two-thirds and twice the median size-adjusted income. Lower-income families have a size-adjusted household income less than two-thirds the median and upper-income families more than twice the median," the report said. 

In all, 46 percent of American households were found to qualify as "middle income" in 2013, one third counted as "lower income," and 21 percent were "upper income." 

The growing income gap has begun attracting increasing scrutiny by economists, politicians, bankers and even Wall Street investors because it is seen as having an overall negative impact on the nation's economy.  A study released in early December by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that, worldwide, the increase in income inequality was slowing economic growth. 

"The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me," Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen said at a conference in October.

Since the great recession, wealthy Americans have experienced a much quicker financial rebound than their less fortunate fellow citizens.  And the last few decades have been especially good to them.

"While most American families remain financially stuck, upper-income families have seen their median wealth double from $318,100 in 1983 to $639,400 in 2013," the report stated.