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Income and Wealth Distribution in America Essay


Many popular American myths hold it that the society in the U.S. is one that provides equal opportunities for its members and that all a person needs to become successful is hard work and enough talent. The common ideology also asserts that everyone should strive towards leadership. Not only this goal is questionable, but the premises are supporting it (e.g., the belief in equal opportunities) are easily disprovable by facts about the income and wealth distribution among the American population.

The American society is highly stratified; the distribution of income and wealth in it is unequal, and very few people have an abundance of resources, whereas many struggles to make their living (Dolbeare 36). It is stated that the top 5% of the American families received 14.4% and 14.2% of the total income in 1972 and 1976, respectively. The breakdown of the income of American families in 1972 and 1976 is shown in Table 1. Despite the fact that the data is rather old, it is stated that the proportion tends not to change over the course of years, had been stable throughout the 20th century, and that other developed countries also have a similar pattern of breakdown (Dolbeare 36-37)

Table 1. The Breakdown of Income among Families in the U.S. in 1972 and 1976 (Dolbeare 36).

Families, % Income, 1972, % Income, 1976, %
Top 5 14.4 14.2
Top 20 41.6 41.0
Next 20 23.5 24.1
Middle 20 17.4 17.6
Lower 20 12.0 12.0
Bottom 20 5.5 5.4

Moreover, the patterns of distribution of wealth are even more unequal. Approximately 61% of American households owned less than 7% of the wealth of the nation, whereas the top 2% of households held approximately 43% of this wealth in 1962. Table 2 shows the distribution of wealth among American households in 1962. Again, as in the case of the income, this pattern remains stable throughout the course of decades (Dolbeare 37).

Table 2. Distribution of Wealth among American Households, 1962 (Dolbeare 37).

Wealth Households, % Total Wealth, %
More than $100,000 2 43
$25,000 – $100,000 15 32
$10,000 – $25,000 23 18
Less than $10,000 61 7

It is important to point out that such characteristics as the level of education are closely related to financial status. It is stated that only approximately a quarter of the American population was able to obtain education better than high school as of the 1970s, and most of these people came from those categories of families/households that had the highest levels of income and/or wealth (Dolbeare 37-38). It is also essential that the occupational characteristics of the population also significantly depend on wealth/income status. A lion’s share of the most highly-paid jobs are filled by the people coming from the upper class, as well as the upper-middle-class; a tiny part of them are held by people coming from the other categories of the society (Dolbeare 38-39). It is also implied that most of these top positions were filled by white men (Dolbeare 39).

As it can be seen, despite the numerous popular myths, the society in the U.S. is highly stratified, with a tiny fraction of people enjoying all the benefits of the powerful economy, and a large part of the population struggling financially and having no real access to such resources like higher education and highly paid jobs, most likely despite the talents and hard work of many of them. Even though the data provided is a few decades old, the same patterns (and similar myths) are easily observable today, and not only in the US but in rather many countries and societies.

Works Cited

Dolbeare, Kenneth M. “The American Political Economy.” American Politics: Policies, Power, and Change. Kenneth M. Dolbeare and Murray J. Edelman. Fairfax, VA: D. C. Heath and Company, 1981. 23-45. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, July 4). Income and Wealth Distribution in America. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/income-and-wealth-distribution-in-america/

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Income and Wealth Distribution in America'. 4 July.

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