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Income Growth For Bottom 90 Percent Of Americans Averaged Just $59 Over 4 Decades: Analysis

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Another day, another mind-blowing fact about the staggering difference between the haves and the have-nots.

Incomes for the bottom 90 percent of Americans only grew by $59 on average between 1966 and 2011 (when you adjust those incomes for inflation), according to an analysis by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston for Tax Analysts. During the same period, the average income for the top 10 percent of Americans rose by $116,071, Johnston found.

To put that into perspective: if you say the $59 boost is equivalent to one inch, then the incomes of the top 10 percent of Americans rose by 168 feet, Johnston explained to Alternet last week.

(Click over to Tax Analysts to read Johnston’s full Tax Notes column.)

Johnston’s long-distance analogy is one way to look at the huge gap between the rich and everyone else, and there are many ways to think about and compare income growth and inequality across various segments of the population. Incomes for the bottom fifth of Americans, for instance, grew about 20 percent between 1979 and 2007, according to a 2011 study from the Congressional Budget Office. During the same period, members of the top 1 percent saw their incomes grow by 275 percent.

Another way to illustrate the huge disparity: the six heirs to the Walmart fortune had a net worth equivalent to the bottom 41.5 percent of Americans combined in 2010, according to an analysis from Josh Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute.

While income inequality may be great for those reaping the big bucks at the top, it’s likely hurting Americans overall. Greater income equality is correlated with stronger economic growth, according to a 2011 IMF report.

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