The End of the Middle Class Century: How the 1% Won the Last 30 Years

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Between 1921 and 2008, the top 10% and the bottom 90% shared income gains equally. The split was 50-50 exactly, according to a new fun interactive graphic built by the Economic Policy Institute with data from economist Emmanuel Saez.

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But between 1971 and 2008, real income declined for the bottom 90%. All the growth went to the top 10%, and more than half went to the top percentile.

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Saez' income data is widely used, but also controversial, since it focuses on market wages and discounts gains from government programs to help the lower-income. But this is a familiar story. The remarkable gains of the (broadly-defined) "middle class" in the middle of this century stopped cold in the last quarter of the 1900s. The all-important and impossible-to-answer question is whether the next generation will look more like the 30 years after World War II or the last 30 years.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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