The inequality of wealth and income in the U.S. has become an increasingly prevalent issue in recent years. One reason for this is that the visibility of this inequality has been increasing gradually for a long time–as society has become less segregated, people can now see more clearly how much other people make and consume. Owing to urban life and the media, our proximity to one another has decreased, making the disparity all too obvious. In addition to this general trend, the financial crisis, with all of its fall out, shined a spotlight on the salaries of bankers and financial workers relative to that of most Americans. And on top of these, and most recently, the upcoming presidential election has raised questions of social justice and income disparities, bringing the issues into focus even more.
It is relatively easy to think about inequality as being too great or too little in abstract terms, but ask yourself how much you really know about wealth distribution in the U.S.
Disagreements about the optimal level of wealth inequality underlie policy debates ranging from taxation to welfare. We attempt
to insert the desires of ‘‘regular’’ Americans into these debates, by asking a nationally representative online panel to estimate the
current distribution of wealth in the United States and to ‘‘build a better America’’ by constructing distributions with their ideal
level of inequality. First, respondents dramatically underestimated the current level of wealth inequality. Second, respondents
constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual
distribution. Most important from a policy perspective, we observed a surprising level of consensus: All demographic
groups—even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy—desired a more
equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.
How Americans think wealth is distributed:
How Americans want wealth to be distributed:
How wealth is actually distributed:
Breakdown in survey:
It strikes me at how misinformed Americans are about how much money they have in relation to everyone else. The poor think the rich are not as rick, and even the rich think the poor are not as poor. Putting wealth distribution aside, the fact that everyone in America thinks wealth is distributed much more evenly than it actually is the most interesting part of this paper.