Wealth Inequality in the United States

In 1982, the “poorest” American listed on the first annual Forbes magazine list of America’s richest 400 had a net worth of $210 million in today’s dollars. The average member of that first list had a net worth of $590 million. In 2018, rich Americans needed net worth of $2.1 billion to enter the Forbes 400, and the average member held a net $7.2 billion, over 10 times the 1982 average after adjusting for inflation.

Inequality is skyrocketing even within the Forbes 400 list of America’s richest. In today’s dollars, the net worth of the richest member of the Forbes 400 has soared from $5 billion in 1982 to $160 billion in 2018, far outpacing the gains at either the Forbes 400 entry point or average. Since 1982, just seven men have held this spot: shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig (1982), oil executive Gordon Getty (1983-1984), Walmart founder Sam Walton (1985-1988), media company owner John Kluge (1989-1991), Microsoft founder Bill Gates (1992-2017, except 1993), investor Warren Buffett (1993), and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (2018).

We equate wealth with “net worth,” the sum total of your assets minus liabilities. Assets can include everything from an owned personal residence and cash in savings accounts to investments in stocks and bonds, real estate, and retirement accounts. Liabilities cover what a household owes: a car loan, credit card balance, student loan, mortgage, or any other bill yet to be paid. In the United States, wealth inequality runs even more pronounced than income inequality.

The Forbes 400 Richest Americans
The Racial Wealth Divide

The most visible indicator of wealth inequality in America today may be the Forbes magazine list of the nation’s 400 richest. In 2018, the three men at the top of that list — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett — held combined fortunes worth more than the total wealth of the poorest half of Americans. You can find more background on these numbers in our report, Billionaire Bonanza 2018.

Household Wealth

Over the past three decades, America’s most affluent families have added to their net worth, while those on the bottom have dipped into “negative wealth,” meaning the value of their debts exceeds the value of their assets.

Article URL : https://inequality.org/facts/wealth-inequality/

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