Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The rich get richer ...

We all know that the rich are getting richer because we read the NY Times and similar outlets.

Yet we also know that the relevant data are complex and that distributions are hard to characterize. We also know that it's hell to make intertemporal comparisons because these involve comparing categories rather than people -- who tend to move in and out of categories. And we also know that stock ownership and home ownership are more widespread than ever. And the Great Depression wiped out a few fortunes and outsized compensation packages are going to CEOs, rock stars and many others. And on and on.

Some help is available from Wojciech Kopczuk and Emmanuel Saez (NBER Working Paper, March 15, 2004) who write about "Top Wealth Shares in the U.S, 1916-2000: Evidence from Estate Returns".

They report: "Our series show that there has been a sharp reduction of wealth concentration over the 20th century: the top 1% wealth share was close to 40% in the early decades of the century but has fluctuated between 20% and 25% over the last three decades."

And, as noted in a recent post, there is substantial mobility in and out of the upper income and wealth strata.

The top 2% and the bottom 5% continue to make all the news. The more mundane remaining 97% will never be good editorial fodder.