Americans Split On Whether U.S. A Country Of Haves, Have-Nots: Poll

09/30/2011 12:14 pm ET | Updated Nov 30, 2011

The gap between the very wealthiest Americans and the rest of the country has been steadily widening for years -- and a growing number of people seem to be aware of it.

For the second year in a row, a new poll finds, the number of Americans who believe the country is divided into two groups -- the "haves," who control the wealth, and "have-nots," who wield relatively little power -- is on the rise.

A study released Thursday from the Pew Research Center shows that 45 percent of Americans believe society is separated into two those two distinct income groups. Only 35 percent of people believed this was the case in 2009. By last year, the number had risen to 42 percent.

The rise in these numbers coincides with the official duration of the economic recovery, which economists say began in mid-2009. That recovery has been largely disappointing: Unemployment remains high, wages have fallen and growth has slowed to a near-standstill this year. The possibility remains that the country could experience a second downturn into recession.

At the same time, the nation's wealthiest citizens have continued to pull further and further ahead of the majority of people.

The richest 1 percent of Americans now collect 24 percent of the income and control 40 percent of the wealth -- a gap that has become markedly more pronounced in recent years, in a phenomenon the author and economist Paul Krugman calls the "Great Divergence."

Earlier this year, it was reported that the richest 400 people in America control more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of households combined.

Income inequality appears to be a principal concern for the members of Occupy Wall Street, a grassroots movement of protesters currently camped in Manhattan's Financial District who say they are there to represent the bottom "99 percent" of Americans.

The Pew study found that while the number of Americans who believe in the "haves / have-nots" distinction is on the rise, 52 percent of people still do not see it as valid.

It also noted that African Americans were much more likely than whites to say the division is accurate. Seventy-three percent of African-Americans agreed that the country is economically divided, the poll found, compared to just 40 percent of whites.

A study in 2007 found that the income of an average black family was only 58 percent as high as the income of an average white family -- a gap that had grown wider since 1974, when average black income was 63 percent that of average white income.

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