For much of the past decade, policymakers and analysts have decried America’s incredibly low savings rate, noting that U.S. households save a fraction of the money of the rest of the world. Citing a myriad of causes — from cheap credit to exploitative bank practices — they’ve noted that the average family puts away less than 4 percent of its income.
“Wealth Inequality in America,” a six-minute video produced by a YouTube user named “Politizane,” casts an interesting angle on the plummeting savings rate. Set to depressing piano music and packed with crystal-clear animations, it gives a powerful snapshot of the American economic landscape. Noting that “The top 1 percent own nearly half the country’s stocks, bonds, and mutual funds,” the video goes on to contrast those impressive holdings with the rest of the country. By comparison, it points out, the bottom 50 percent of earners own only 0.5 percent of those investments.
It isn’t hard to see why there is such a yawning gap between the richest Americans and the rest of us. Since 1976, the share of national income earned by the top one percent of workers has nearly tripled, from 9 percent to 24 percent. It’s not hard to see why their share has increased: As Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently pointed out, the economy has roughly doubled in size over the last 30 years — and, in an ideal world, more money in the economy should mean more money in everyone’s pocket.
But the distribution of this huge economic bonanza has been startlingly uneven. While the earnings of the top 1 percent have tripled, the average household income has effectively stagnated. Put another way, there’s a reason Americans haven’t saved: they haven’t had much money to save.
In terms of information, Politizane’s video isn’t offering anything new: Its analysis of American perceptions of wealth distribution, the line between rich and poor and the issue of America’s wealth continuum echo stories that have been in the media for years. But there’s something about seeing the country’s wealth gap in easy-to-follow animations that allows the dry analysis to hit home. Or, as the video puts it, these illustrations make it easier for viewers to “wake up and realize that the reality in this country is not at all what we think it is.”