The Gap Between the Wealthy and the Poor Gets Bigger

A new brief by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the income gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the population has more than tripled in the last 30 years. Not at any other time since 1928 has income been so concentrated at the top of the scale.

Between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent of earners increased their income by 281 percent, translating to an increase of $973,100 per household. Comparatively, the bottom fifth of households increased their incomes by only 16 percent, amounting to a real increase of about $2,400 per household over the course of almost 30 years.

Concurrently, in 1979, the incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans were 23 times higher than the poorest fifth of Americans. But by 2007 they were 75 times higher–triple the gap of a few decades ago.

Underneath these numbers lies the heart of the problem for many poor New Yorkers. They have simply been left out of economic playing field. Another report from today’s New York Times adds more to the story, showing that over the past five years, increases in the cost of living have far outpaced wages. While median wages have increased by 16 percent since 2000, the amount needed to cover basic costs of living has increased between 20 and 42 percent. The National Low Income Housing Coalition also reports on this data every year in their “Out of Reach” report.

This disparity between income and the cost of living is the simple reason why many families become homeless and why the new DHS Commissioner’s emphasis on jobs is not the answer to homelessness. Jobs that continue to provide insufficient wages will in no way begin to address poverty and homelessness.

So here we are–the cost of living continues to move further and further out of reach for low-income Americans as their wages get smaller, their costs get higher, and the wealthiest Americans get wealthier. And yet it’s not enough to convince our elected officials (specifically the Mayor and the Governor) to propose modest tax increases on the wealthy or stop cutting services to the poor. They continue to feed the disparity in this year’s City and State budget.

How great can this disparity get? We have yet to find out.

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