“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – Mark Twain
Ever since the #occupy movement kicked off, the term “the one percent” has been a household phrase. Everyone knows what it means, right? It’s those richest of the rich, with their Park Avenue homes, super-exorbitant salaries, and low-paid minions beneath them, suffering while the boss sits in the lap of luxury.
Or so everyone thought.
As The Atlantic points out, this may be one of those times when the very statistics used to prove a point actually blinded people to the truth of the matter.
It turns out that using the term “one percent” has clouded the issue. It was not 1% of Americans that were holding the vast majority of the wealth. In fact, it is more like .01%. And that sliver of the population is so rich that their numbers could be spread over 1% and still look impressive, thereby misleading those who hear that “one percent” phrase.
Why is it important to know that the number of super-rich is even slimmer than we thought? Because an examination of the “one percent”, now known to be too wide a sampling, does not reveal the truth of who holds the wealth. Within the “one percent” are CEOs with fat salaries. And as a result, those people have been demonized. But it turns out that those richest of the richest do not collect paychecks.
The super-rich get all their money from investments, the stock market. Therefore, they pay little in tax. And they may have no employees “beneath them” at all.
And one of the most interesting facts that we find when we look at that top .01% is that they are not always the same people. There is “churn” at the top.
The IRS releases a list of the “Fortunate 400” every year, the richest tax returns of the country. Between 1992 and 2008, over 3,500 different households were on that list. And even more shocking is that only one percent of the Fortunate 400 – that’s 4 households – appeared on the list every year in that period.
These discoveries do not halt the battle for Fair Pay, a Living Wage, or collective bargaining rights for those who wish to have them. But it may go a long way toward defining who is who, and possibly prevent epithets tossed based on someone’s wealth that is gained without being on the backs of others.
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