The wealthiest 1% of Americans earned 21.2% of all income in 2005, according to new data from the Internal Revenue Service. That is up sharply from 19% in 2004, and surpasses the previous high of 20.8% set in 2000, at the peak of the previous bull market in stocks.
The bottom 50% earned 12.8% of all income, down from 13.4% in 2004 and a bit less than their 13% share in 2000. [. . .]
The IRS data go back only to 1986, but academic research suggests the rich last had this high a share of total income in the 1920s. [. . .]
One study by University of Chicago academics Steven Kaplan and Joshua Rauh concludes that in 2004 there were more than twice as many such Wall Street professionals in the top 0.5% of all earners as there are executives from nonfinancial companies.
Mr. Rauh said "it's hard to escape the notion" that the rising share of income going to the very richest is, in part, "a Wall Street, financial industry-based story." The study shows that the highest-earning hedge-fund manager earned double in 2005 what the top earner made in 2003, and top 25 hedge-fund managers earned more in 2004 than the chief executives of all the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, combined. It also shows profits per equity partner at the top 100 law firms doubling between 1994 and 2004, to over $1 million in 2004 dollars.
Thank God congress stepped in to save that tax break for hedge fund managers. In a little sidebar, the article notes that "The data pose a potential challenge for President Bush and the Republican presidential field" but I actually think it's striking how little Democratic Party politicians talk about inequality.