The 99% Is a Myth—Here’s How It Really Breaks Down

The 99% Is a Myth—Here’s How It Really Breaks Down


In our own minds, we usually place ourselves in the social class in which we were raised. For me, like many Americans, that means “middle
class.” But the truth is that the social classes in the United States are rapidly pulling away from one another. The emerging class system looks different,
with its casual dress codes and somewhat greater variety of skin tones and ethnicities, but we are the accomplices in a process that is strangling the economy, destabilizing our
politics, and eroding democracy. There is a familiar story about rising inequality
in the United States. The villains are the plutocrats, the fat cats, the tech bros and the rest of the so-called 1%. The good guys are the 99 percent, also known
as “the people.” In fact, it is the top 0.1% who have been the big winners in wealth over the past 50 years. Their share of the pie climbed from 10 percent
in 1963 to more than 22 percent today. But not everybody below them had to give up
something. Only the bottom 90% did. In between, there is a third group that has held on to its share of the wealth year after year. Let’s call it the 9.9%. The 9.9% is rich in more than mere money. It has substantially lower rates of heart
disease, diabetes, and obesity; it marries later and has more stable family structures; it lives in gilded neighborhoods with richer social networks and vastly better educational opportunities. And it is able to pass along all of this to
its offspring, leaving the bottom 90% in the dust. We like to pretend that none of this matters because in the land of opportunity, everybody has a chance to make it. But in fact, social mobility is lower here than in many other developed countries, and it’s been going down. Aristocrats take wealth out of productive
activities and invest it in walls. They lock themselves and their offspring in
place at the expense of other people’s children. The escalating inequality of our time appears new, but if you take in a broad sweep of history, starting, say, with the Great Pyramids of Egypt, inequality looks like the norm of human experience. History tells us that aristocrats come to
believe their own propaganda: that their superiority is an artifact of nature. Today’s 9.9 percent has convinced themselves they don’t have any privileges, and the delusions are understandable. A strange truth about rising inequality is that even as it locks our privileges in place, it doesn’t seem to make things that much easier. That’s because the greater the inequality, the less your money buys. Our insecurity grows as the chasm beneath
us expands. Rising inequality leads to political instability and typically ends in catastrophic violence. Still, there have been exceptions. America’s founders were mostly 9.9%ers, but they turned their backs on the man at the top in order to create a government of,
by, and for the people. Reversing the calcifying effects of rising
inequality isn’t just a matter of helping out the less fortunate. The challenge we face now is to renew the
promise of American democracy.

100 Comments

  1. Chance Rhymes says:

    Free Enterprise. It’s a shame they don’t educate people on creating assets and starting companies in school. Anyone can do it with our economic system. It’s not as risky as people make it seem, and it hardly ever costs more than a down payment on a house to get a small business started. That’s what our economy was designed for.

  2. Sergio Aguirre says:

    Basic financial education could solve this but democrats are too focused on teaching schools kids about trannys than how to build and grow wealth. Funny how that works out.

  3. keldefin says:

    Working class people are paid to build walls (like the one around Nancy Pelosi's house). Rich people don't keep their money in basement vaults like Scroogr McDuck.

  4. Leylin sigma says:

    So no facts just improbable statements?

  5. Jason Davila says:

    There is the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. That's it

  6. HistoricLife says:

    Our modern economy is much like neo-feudalism in the 15th century. The wealth is concentrated at the top, the upper 9.9% are the mercantile and administrator class, the rest are various shades of poor. As a 5%er, I support reforms to get more wealth for the lower class. The upper .5% took $9 trillion of economic control from the lower class sense 1977 and gobbled up the $20 trillion in growth.

  7. khemkas lehrling says:

    Oh m goodness, where to start.

    1. The goal should not be to reduce wealth inequality but rather to ensure anyone with motivation and ability has access.

    2. This particular assertion made by Matthew Stewart is not backed up by data.

    3. People have been writing about the class structure and class mobility in America since America was established. Reality has routinely demonstrated a) the class structure is not very confining and b) the class structure itself change about every 1-2 decades.

  8. Michel Pijnen says:

    Did some rich Super Pac buy The Atlantic?

  9. Just John says:

    I'm not so much bothered by Doctors, Lawyers, etc. (With the exception of their monopoly on social mobility) as I am with the Capitalists who keep massive profits and be exponentially richer while the poor get poorer. They are the real enemy.

  10. Linzie Rogers says:

    By mid century when the dominant society no longer has a numerical majority, the…. will hit the fan. The top 10% knows this is coming and is getting ready for it. Those at the bottom see no need for haste. They never had anything for starters. People of color in this group may have a few alarmists among them but not many. It's the remaining dominant society that is so scared. They are the ones who follow Trump in the hope he can help them. All he can do is delay the inevitable. They win elections now but gerrymandering and cheating can protect you for just so long. Once they start losing it will be a long drought. Also many of them fear what they have done wrongly to those beneath them will be repaid in kind. Numbers matter and they won't have them. The Bureau of the Census and the Pew Research Center have predicted by 2050 it will be whites 47%, Hispanics 32%, Blacks 14%, and Asians 7%. 32%+14%+7% = 53% which is greater than 47%. The top 10% is getting ready for what is to come. This whole issue about the wall is really about this but no one dares say it. I will.

  11. not notness says:

    If you work, by definition, you are not aristocratic. If this 9.9% are Doctors, Lawyers etc. then they are not, by definition, parasitic – so, im calling bullshit.

    The owners of the atlantic on the other hand. Well

  12. Robert Walker says:

    More crap from the atlantic. How about some examples, fact,s figures or real world solutions to back this up.

  13. VitalNutrients says:

    If we removed hierarchy that might fix this?

  14. Сергей М says:

    Блин, вы и нам это экспортировали ((
    US exports this shit in our country too. Same situation + Americans sanctions.
    And I’m afraid, international plutocracy will use old trick – war. Maybe they (American, Russian and europian oligarchs) had discuss that solution already (((

  15. john panos says:

    nice fluff piece and you didn't stray from the allowed confines of wealth in this country

  16. Ingo Clever says:

    Well… in Germany I would summarize. Industries have been lobbying for decades. Hence the political Caste is to different degrees corrupt, though also not that centered around „strong men“. Also the citizens (the academia, Business owners etc.) Have a lot less power and representation now. And the majority is all about feel. Now your 3 minutes.

  17. Diogenes Casares says:

    How do you measure immobility? By the amount of people who move up the ladder? That isn't how it works

  18. Diogenes Casares says:

    How? I hear what we should be doing, but nowhere does it say how

  19. Aaron Brown says:

    I'm for a flat tax.

  20. Warren Fletcher says:

    Please link sources.

  21. butter my eggroll says:

    If you want to be rich start a company, or learn to invest. Who cares if Jeff Bezos is worth a hundred and forty billion dollars. If you want a piece of that pie, then bake a damn pie. If you have a good job that pays the bills and puts food on the table you should be thankful for the people that were smarter and braver than you for starting a company. Furthermore, I find it ironic that people say the poor are getting poorer yet their standard of living continues to increase. Isn't it interesting that almost everyone regardless of income has a smartphone, a tv, and maybe even a car. But what does everyone truly think the solution is for this class divide? You cannot just tax those who worked harder than you at 75% because you are jealous of their yacht. For one, that's theft. And two, it would be biting the very hand that feeds you. Without someone else's pursuit for wealth you wouldn't have any at all.

  22. Just A Guy Production says:

    Oligarchy

  23. Mongolian Bornaparte says:

    If you continue with the current capitalist system of 1% you the 99% lose. If you revolt against this through civil war you still lose. Congratulations you're in a lose lose situation😒

  24. Justin Sui says:

    Actually to not live below the poverty line in American is pretty simple. You just have to
    1) Get a high school diploma
    2) Go into trade school or get a STEM college degree
    3) Don't have kids until you are married and have a stable income.

    But that is just to not live below the poverty line, in reality even if you do all those things right, you are still never going to make as much money as the in your lifetime than the top 0.1% rich people make in ONE HOUR. The truth is your productivity is not connected to the income you earn anymore, it is instead connected to the people you know.( If you can understand this, you will be fine)

  25. Jesse N says:

    Interesting, but not educational at all because he didn't really provide any examples or context for most of his claims. Just sorta made statements with nothing to back them up.

  26. Manos Mpoliotis says:

    I think your founding fathers wanted to be aristocrats in the place of the aristocrats…

  27. William Hutchinson says:

    good luck w/ that.

  28. EveryTimeV2 says:

    Kill 'em. It's the only thing they'll listen to. I hate watches. I smash them and the alarm stops screaming in my ear.

  29. EveryTimeV2 says:

    Vote harder on the left. They say your votes don't matter because they want you to feel like learned helplessness is the only answer. These parasites will stop at nothing to sabotage and pervert the course of justice, they will use anything that they can, slander and blacksite people who stand up against them. They laugh at you like you are helpless rabbits, but they must, because we are not as helpless as someone that they can ignore.

  30. Pugorod says:

    wow, if only there was some german philosopher who predicted this exact phenomena 150 years ago.

  31. Jelliot Williams says:

    1 percenter, represent!!!

  32. ChickenDragon says:

    That whole video said nothing. Not really at least. Give me hard facts. Empower me to find this information from various sources. give me your sources and where you are pulling your information from. Give me numbers, facts, sources, not whatever that was.

  33. Danny Jay Gamer says:

    There's a good intention and also benefits from lowering the gap between the classes. However. A lot of people behind such movements would actually preffer for poor to be poorer if it would meant that the gap is lower, than having poor be better but the gap would be wider. And this is the problem. You don't make equality by dragging successfull down. You making by ensuring that everyone could have the same starting posiiton and make it to the top on their own. By hard work or great ideas. Free education is a must in this equation. When you donpt have to struggle to gain knowledge and don't end up in dept, you'll have a better chance in life.

  34. Steven Kravitz says:

    This sounds like something a Marxian socialist would say.

  35. Tim Travasos says:

    Pie in the sky liberal belief. People segregate themselves by group for comfort and familiarity. Even though the income gap is a very big problem, you can't legislate equality.

  36. Bill Deef says:

    Oops. You forgot that there were other “experiments” to eliminate equality, which is why some countries had to give their people free medical care and tertiary education. For fear that they’d like to experiment with equality of wealth. Boo!

  37. Lab Goats says:

    The Atlantic is as misleading as usual. Carrying water for the corporate Democrats.

    First of all, as other comments here have explained, America was founded as a plutocracy. It was very racist and misogynistic too, as was the rest of the world.
    But unlike much of the world, still under the feudal system at the time, the US decided instead of one wealthy person owning it all, all in the wealthiest class would be rulers. That's why only wealth landowners could vote. America does a better job at pretending it's a democracy these days, but if you pay much attention, it's not too difficult to realize how far from democracy we are.
    Just read that Princeton paper dor a few years back that empiracly proves we life in a plutocracy. Oligarchy.

    The top 0.01% are the rulers, the plutocrats. The people under them in the top 10% are who the real plutocrats in the approx. 0.01% point to so they can say "The economy is fiiine! Great even! Just look at the stock market."

  38. Devin Soto says:

    I wish my parents would pay for my college

  39. Asher Garland says:

    Absolute garbage video

  40. Lucky B says:

    Like Jackpot Lotto winners going broke? Wealth redistribution by stupid.
    Leftist theory always forgets the human quotient.

  41. Bruised Kimchi says:

    Lots of platitudes but nothing concrete was really said

  42. Gabriel Rader says:

    Wait, doesn’t this cause money to lose worth too?

  43. Jason Davila says:

    There seen only two classes. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat

  44. Dan Becker says:

    Reading comments and seeing so many people who’ve been programmed to fight against raising taxes on the super wealthy. It’s an amazing thing to witness. I guess they believe one day they’ll be part of the club?

  45. 381MEDALLION says:

    This video is spot on in my opinion. What more evidence do we need than this that America is not the land of opportunities for most and Capitalism has never been our Savior. @Don Parkison Voting in and of itself will never change anything in this country, the Civil Rights movement left us with broken dreams. We need economic development, fair housing, and growth in our communities and it starts with a quality education

  46. Ed Keosada says:

    So basically try to marry into the top 10%…got it

  47. mo brown says:

    It’s so true inequality looks normal in every age

  48. Omar Ahmed A-omar says:

    The 1% are trying to save the dyung capitalism through media

  49. fairfeatherfiend says:

    Time for the revolution

  50. Not Playing says:

    The bill of rights was a farce, written into the constitution late, only to aid in its ratification. The founding fathers never meant a word.

  51. Levi Gonzalez says:

    It is not the rich man's job to support the lower class

  52. airmark02 says:

    wow ~
    I'm impressed !!
    Neo Liberal NPR
    platitude babble …
    "lets start a conversation"

  53. jackgoldman1 says:

    It's all due to inflation, currency debasement, legally counterfeiting currency, subsidizing bias, computer credits, controlled by elites. The world that works for legally counterfeited currency and computer credits are all free slaves. In other words, the 99% are free slaves.

  54. Glory Amber says:

    I mean we have a smaller share of the pie, but that's okay because it's a much much bigger pie.living standards have been rising since the 60s despite inequality. If the government tries to fuck with the economy we wouldn't have as much economic development.

  55. Sofie Linnea says:

    If you don't want the rich to be rich then stop buying their products. Don't pay for their services and then complain that they're richer than you. You made them rich by buying their shit even though you didn't really need it and even though you were well aware of the often slave like conditions under which a lot of these products were made(sweatshops etc). We need a shift in our ways of thinking, a shift from blaming others for our situation to taking responsibility for our own roles in creating this culture of consuming without thought of who we're actually supporting with our money.

  56. kalpak wadettiwar says:

    We need a socialist revolution 😏

  57. J josephm says:

    If you seize the wealth of Gates, Bezos and Buffet, how long will all that money last the American people?

    A few weeks.

  58. Meldridge Reed Jr says:

    You should read "The Accidental Superpower" and "The Absent Superpower" by Peter Weihan.

  59. America says:

    just go around the slope lmao

  60. Randy Clark says:

    Well done, a lesson of basic economics.

  61. Radwulf Eboraci says:

    Capitalism and especially it's greedy bastard child American Capitalism is a pyramid scheme. Yes, everybody CAN get rich … but it is necessary that not everybody WILL. In fact, it requires an extremely large base of 'losers' as the Trumpanzee would say to maintain itself.

  62. Tim Markowicz says:

    The reality is 90% is still greater than 10%. Stop electing silver spoon millionaires and billionaires…

  63. Jim Smithers says:

    "and vastly better educational opportunities" – Bullshit. My father was born in a dirt poor family and he studied more and did always more than others. He made his fortune on his own.

    "But in fact, social mobility is lower here"…Bullshit. My great grandmother went to the market to sell eggs every fuckin day so all her children could go to school.

    "It marries later and has a more stable family structure" – and who is stopping the 90% to do likewise? They do that to themselves.

    "And it is able to pass along all this to their offsprings" – I'm making a shitload of money on the side just by wise investing…and you bet I'm going to pass everything to my children and not to a freeloader.

    "…leaving the bottom 90% in the dust." – You are in the dust because you are lazy to make yourself better, and you blame others for your own shortcomings. Even if I gave you all my money you would end up in the dust again…because you belong there.

    You Matthew Stewart and the self-proclaimed "good guys" are not good guys ,you are just the lazy and envy motherfuckers, so go and fuck yourself you hypocrite piece of shit.

  64. fuck you says:

    the difference isn't between the 90%, the 9.9% and the 0.1%
    the key difference lies on the following distinction:
    there are people who work for a living.
    there are other people, whose job it is to own things.
    that's it. it's that simple.
    there is some overlap between the two groups, but our primary goal shouldn't be the elimination of wealth inequality. it should be us working towards a world where owning things is not a job.

  65. age2199 says:

    Whats the music at the end? Sounds familir.

  66. Wartime Christian says:

    Can we please stop lying about the founding fathers. They were very Wicked people who constructed the Constitution to support their interest and nobody else's. The only thing that separated them from the rest of the world is that they weren't complete total dicks but they were dicks none the less

  67. Jack Capone says:

    This is WILDLY incorrect. There is no recognition of the overall improvement of quality of life and accessibility to so many things that only the super wealthy could not even a century ago. The "poor" are fare wealthy than they have ever been and are getting richer faster than the rich.

    https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty

    There is also no such thing as 'wealth inequality'. Yes, everyone has a different level of wealth but to say it is inequality is just petty jealousy. Instead, focus on improving the lot of the poor. Doing this at the expense of the rich has a negative economic impact, so, please don't say it. This has been proven repeatedly.

  68. Kralub says:

    This is all bull. America is one of the greatest places of opportunity.

  69. Francisco Betancourt says:

    Democracy is stupid and a fallacy. Otherwise why Macron and Trump were elected.. M.Twain said that if voting changed anything, they wouldn’t let “us” do it. He was absolutely right

  70. richard ouvrier says:

    Bregman went to Davis and told the 0.1% they have to pay more tax.

  71. richard ouvrier says:

    Davos, not Davis. Frankly, I prefer the Marxist bipartite class structure.

  72. richard ouvrier says:

    Skeptic. I think Atlantic readers are tickled pink to be designated the aristocracy. They virtue signal.

  73. Aymen DZ says:

    as a non-american i can say…….that was vague af!

  74. Pixel Bytes says:

    I never understood gated communities. Why do you want to just block yourself off and talk to like minded people? That’s unproductive to society if a ton of people communicate so little with those who are different.

  75. UniThe G says:

    you want middle class to be proactive and self-propagating?Nah man straight up impossible, no such wealth redistribution gonna happen in postmodern world, just look how the US wealth gap grew since 1:Soviet collapse 2: China joins global production

    This gap only increases with the mature of contemporary tech. , traditional worker and farmer classes might as well vanish in a sense they not only do not own means of production but also cannot be anywhere close to means of production, which will completely disable their political stakes in the economic system.

  76. gardener ben says:

    the top 10% cannot keep it in the family entirely as they have to give up assets for inheritance tax, or an equivalence in another form (money usually) the top 0.1% however,, probably have means.

  77. Anthony Pasquariello says:

    I read your article "birth of the new aristocracy" and it was brilliant.

  78. Wolf. says:

    Capitalism I love it, if you got something people want is and rare in supply you gonna get earn more, just like it should be

  79. Max Ruso says:

    What a bs… we have had hierarchy since the beginning…

  80. Maël Lorach says:

    remember to adress equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome

  81. nigga mane mufasa says:

    idk my dudes…. this is either true or just propaganda from the 1% to deflect hate

  82. Dennis Esterl says:

    So much talk, so little facts.

  83. Maggie says:

    This guy sounds like the love child of Owen Wilson and Matthew McConaughey

  84. DaGreat7 says:

    Okey, I'll attempt to read the referred Full Article that's found in the Description of this video…

  85. Steve Deasy says:

    I don't know if you noticed or not but the advertisements attached to your video advertise solely to the 9.9%. Something about your branding.

  86. Brad Deal says:

    Superficial understanding of the forces that drive our society will cause a lot of harm. Socialism is not the answer, neither is unchecked capitalism. This schism between the haves and have nots will become more pronounced with the advent of Artificial Intelligence and robots. Universal income will be the end of the middle class.

  87. M K says:

    The top 10% are the ones that make the money, and it is everyone else. For example, they are doctors, lawyers, STEM majors, etc. The big problem is that the savings rate is very high, and they are able to build wealth, and it is everyone else.

  88. Commie Squid says:

    We're back.

  89. Sobanya says:

    That's the definition of capitalism. Someday we will have to admit it doesn't work.

  90. DXQ says:

    How are they blaming it on the 9.9%? The 9.9% merely held on to their wealth while the 0.1% took it from the 90%. The 9.9% are also mere workers in the system. Just really highly trained workers. Do you think your doctor takes most of the money the hospital makes or the stockholders?

  91. darthvader5300 says:

    The question that must be asked is this. How they are doing it? Where are the details? What procedures and methodologies and techniques they are using? Where are the listings of the components and networks of this socio-economic process and how they are linked together and how do they function and work together to hoard the American Dream? And once you have studied the opposition-enemy then you must by now, know then on how to create counter-measures to neutralize their dream hoarding actions and activities and organizations and organizational set ups, etc. Sun Tzu says: Know thy enemy and know thyself, and in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.

  92. Flux Capacitor says:

    All great empires collapse. The U.S is no different

  93. massey3129 says:

    Forget about percentages that fluctuate over long periods. Everyone needs to put in the same effort and that is not the case currently. We live in the most prosperous county in the world from top to bottom. Our poor would be considered well off in most countries. Problem is, the liberals in this country do not care if anyone has to earn anything. Just give it to them to buy their vote. 

    Value education, family unit and God and all will go well for you. Value athletes, uneducated celebrities, music, drugs and illegitimate children and all will certainly go very poorly for you. It's not rocket science.

  94. deepfriedsammich says:

    The problem is that most humans believe in an animalistic philosophical proposition, well illustrated in this video: the idea of forced association. Most people may decry "rape culture" but whole heartedly endorse their own preferred versions of forced and coerced associations and not consensual ones. This results in unintended perverse consequences. Once enough people endorse and support the principle of forced association, that is, once it becomes an acceptable, even cherished, component of our society's governance, the natural consequences follow. Who do people think are going to prove better at playing the game of coerced and manipulated associations, those with more, or those with fewer resources? People don't, for the most part, think in these terms though. Liberty actually works. Only aristocracies win when a society's governance is more determined by forced associations, yet that is precisely what it is for which people are agitating when they call for "redistribution." That is as true of the "communist" Soviet Union as it was of eighteenth century France. Mattew Stewart wants to praise "democracy," and decry inequality, and yet I see no indication that he is cognizant of the history of this course. The supposed "growing inequality" has been growing proportionally to attempts by groups of people, through the political system, to force "more equal" outcomes on people by dictating all sorts of forced associations. It doesn't work.

  95. Sabah Amal says:

    We are all human, treat people the way you'd like to be treated.
    Stay humble, no matter what u have or don't have, doesn't define u. Character is more valuable. Be Christlike! 🤲🇦🇺

  96. Noem Í says:

    Id recommend The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Kate Pickett. It was incredibly eye opening book on income inequality, some of the findings were quite shocking

  97. stachowi says:

    As someone who knows a few 9.9%er's personally… the main issue is they don't know they're the problem because they live in a social bubble… they have NO CLUE what the rest have to do to survive and the most ironic part is they think they're "poor".

    Awareness is the first step to change and they're oblivious.

  98. Srn Rn says:

    0.1% propaganda.

  99. PMoose Traven says:

    Lmao PhDs ain’t rich. What are u smokin

  100. 394pjo says:

    Our country is not so much a country as it is a 'country club', it’s very much a members-only affair. Our duty, as Americans, is to serve our oligarchy for as long as we can remain useful to them. After that we are free to blow our brains out or die on the streets as homeless bums.

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