In recent years, as economic inequality in America has grown, many researchers have tried to figure out just how much wealth and income those at the top have. These figures then come to stand for the magnitude of economic inequality in the U.S. One such finding is that of Emmanuel Saez, the Berkeley economist and Thomas Piketty-collaborator, who has found that America’s 1 percent’s share of total U.S. income is roughly 20 percent.
But a new paper from the Brookings Institution challenges this and other calculations of Saez and Piketty, arguing that while wealth and income inequality are indeed increasing (nobody disputes that), they haven’t done so at the magnitude that Piketty and his colleagues have found. The paper, authored by three Federal Reserve economists—Jesse Bricker, Alice Henriques, and John Sabelhaus—and Jacob Krimmel of Wharton, found that from 1992 to 2012, the top 1 percent’s share of wealth rose by 6 percentage points to 33 percent. This is substantially lower than estimates by Saez and his colleagues, which estimate that the share of wealth held by the 1 percent is 42 percent. The share of income estimate is more similar: The Brookings paper found that the share of income earned by the 1 percent is 18 percent, while Piketty and Saez’s 2012 estimate is 23 percent.