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UHNW Americans’ Share of Wealth Rising Since 1980

By Alex Padalka December 18, 2017

It’s good to be a financial advisor to America’s richest people, and apparently it's been getting better for over three decades. The wealthiest Americans’ share of the country’s wealth has been steadily rising since 1980, according to a report authored in part by French economist Thomas Piketty, author of the 2013 best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

The top 1% controlled 22% of the nation’s wealth in 1980 and 39% in 2014, although that tapered off to 38% in 2015, according to the report. The silver lining for the remaining 99% of Americans is that wealth inequality hasn’t yet reached the levels of the late 1920s, when the top 1% controlled close to 50% of the country’s wealth, according to the report.

But the highest-earning Americans’ share of the nation’s income has also been steadily rising. In 1980 the top 1% took in about 10% of the country’s income but that shot up to 20% by 2016, the report found. The top 10%, meanwhile, earn around 46% of the country’s income, according to the study. That’s compared to around 36% of the income controlled by the top 10% of European earners, around 41% controlled by the top 10% of Chinese and around 45% controlled by the top 10% of Russians. Only India, where the top 10% earn around 55% of the country’s wealth, has higher levels of income inequality than the U.S., according to the report.

Meanwhile, the poor are getting poorer. While the income share of the bottom 50% was 20% in 1980, it plunged to 13% in 2016, the report found.

Piketty and his colleagues attribute rising income inequality to “massive” inequalities in education as well as a tax system that’s been growing less progressive.