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New Report: Wealth Gap Expanding in U.S.

A new report documents the effects of a widening wealth gap in the United States and offers recommendations for limiting inequality. Credit: Agnico-Eagle/Wikimedia Commons.
A new report documents the effects of a widening wealth gap in the United States and offers recommendations for limiting inequality. Credit: Agnico-Eagle/Wikimedia Commons.
December 4, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Patriotic Millionaires, a group that counts Warren Buffett, Bill Gates Sr., and chief executives of Fortune 500 companies among its ranks, has released a report exposing a growing wealth gap between the 400 richest Americans and the rest of the population.

Chuck Collins, an heir to the Oscar Mayer fortune who co-authored the report with the Institute for Policy Studies, summarizes what they found.

"Our main finding is that wealth is getting much more concentrated in the hands of a few than we thought," he said. "So, the wealthiest 20 people now have more wealth than the bottom half of the population, 152 million people."

Collins said it's important for millionaires and billionaires to speak out against inequality and advocate for policies that can reverse what he calls "dangerous trends."

According to the report, the richest 100 households now hold as much wealth as the nation's entire African-American population, and the top 186 people on Forbes magazine's annual list of the wealthiest Americans own as much as all Latinos in the United States.

While 11 members of the Forbes "Top 20" built successful companies or were shrewd investors, Collins said, nine made the list through inherited wealth. Because current policies favor the rich, he said, the United States is at risk of becoming a nation with the kind of hereditary aristocracy that Americans fought a revolution to overthrow. The report said extreme inequality corrodes the democratic process, polarizes communities and impairs public health.

"It undermines healthy economic activity and growth, and it erodes social mobility, the ability of people who are not born wealthy to have the opportunity to become wealthy," Collins said. "These inequalities undermine the fundamental American dream."

The report's recommendations to close the wealth gap include raising the minimum wage, limiting the influence of money in politics, shutting down offshore tax havens and taxing wealth from investments at the same rate workers pay on income.

The full report is online at ips.dc.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NM