“If Poor People Knew How Rich Rich People Are, There Would Be Riots”: How Bad Is Income Inequality?

April 2, 2015  |  

How bad is income inequality in America? Well, picture this: Let’s say all the wealth in our nation is a pizza pie. The wealthiest 20 percent share a whopping 84 percent of that pizza among themselves. The bottom 40 percent must nibble on just 0.3 percent of that pizza pie.

“Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets,” Salon said, quoting comedian Chris Rock. Three recent findings, Salon added, affirm Rock’s statement; we have no idea how ridiculously skewed wealth is in America.

One study asked 5,000 Americans to guess the share of U.S. wealth that the wealthiest possess. The average American believed that the affluent owned 59 percent of the pizza pie, which we all know is way off. Bless their hearts, they also thought that the bottom 40 percent held on to nine percent of the nation’s wealth.

Another report asked 55,000 U.S. residents to estimate the CEO-to-worker pay ratio. The median American assumed that it was 30-to-1. Nope! Wrong again. It’s 354-to-1. That means CEOs of S&P 500 companies made 354 times the average salary of rank-and-file employees in America.

Journalist Chrystia Freeland said it best: “Americans actually live in Russia, although they think they live in Sweden.”

This is not the way to live, according to Salon. The ideal distribution would be the top quintile owning 32 percent while the bottom two quintiles own 25 percent.

The two aforementioned studies offer reasons why America is currently apathetic about income inequality. You can’t really see it and most of us are clueless about the insanely skewed wealth distribution in the U.S.

The last study Salon mentions brings up another reason why we’re so blasé about income inequality — we’re all so gosh darn optimistic about the American Dream. One day, we like to think, we too can become a CEO with a whole pizza pie in our bank account. But the problem is that we might be a little too optimistic.

“The researchers found Americans overestimate the amount of upward social mobility that exists in society…[P]eople think that moving up is significantly more likely than it is in reality,” Salon said.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but 70 percent percent of Americans born on the lower rungs of the income ladder never make it past middle class.

Now don’t get us wrong. The rags-to-riches journey is attainable, but we’re all seeing it through rose-colored classes. The “American Dream” is a lot dreamier than you think.

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