"Different from you and me"?

Kevin Williamson looks at the fuzzy boundaries of the category we call "the rich":
Far from having the 21st-century equivalent of an Edwardian class system, the United States is characterized by a great deal of variation in income:  More than half of all adult Americans will be at or near the poverty line at some point over the course of their lives; 73 percent will also find themselves in the top 20 percent, and 39 percent will make it into the top 5 percent for at least one year.  Perhaps most remarkable, 12 percent of Americans will be in the top 1 percent for at least one year of their working lives.
Darn 73-percenters.


ZZMike said...

One fascinating thing is that the top 1% changes hands now and again. People drop out, and other people get in.

I suspect that the same is true for the bottom 1% (which is surely a lot bigger than the top 1%).

MikeD said...

I suspect that the same is true for the bottom 1% (which is surely a lot bigger than the top 1%).

Actually ZZMike, that's completely untrue. The population of the United States is approximately 316.13 million. So basic math tells me that 1% of that is 3.1613 million. It doesn't matter if that's the top 1% of income earners among the population, or bottom 1% of income earners, it's still 1%.

Texan99 said...

But it's not the same 3.1613 million people. People don't go from birth to death always in the bottom or top 1%: they're typically in those categories briefly, with lots of turnover. So while we have inequality, we also have lots of mobility. It would be interesting to see statistics on total or average earnings over lifetimes. There would still be inequalities there, but I suspect they'd be less stark.

Grim said...

It's also not 3.1613 million people. The population is rising, which means that the size of the bottom 1% (and top 1%, and indeed every percent) is rising too.

But we can recapture the force of ZZMike's objection by rephrasing it slightly: if instead of dividing America this way, we divide it by income levels, we'll get the point he wants. Say we take the top income bracket as $2 million per year plus, and the bottom bracket as $0/year. You'll find a lot more Americans at the bottom bracket than in the top one.

Are they the same people from year to year? Well, some of them.