These days they are also the most vilified members of American society -- also known as the 1 Percenters, who control about two-fifths of the country's wealth and fuel nearly 100% of the protests around Wall Street, through the rest of the country and around the world.
By Jeff Cox, CNBC.com Senior Writer
NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- They are CEOs and money managers, doctors and lawyers, as might be expected. But they are also computer technicians, scientists and even farmers. Some are singers and movie stars (even though they may not like to admit it) and the rest of them are spread among various professions.
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The 1 Percenters, in fact, actually pay a disproportionate amount of their incomes to taxes, something that is especially true for the 5 percenters -- for whom there is an abundance of Census data but who don't come in for as much criticism as their more elite brethren. Perhaps "We are the 95 percent!" isn't as melodious a chant. Economists Kyle Mudry and Justin Bryan estimate that 1 Percenters paid 40% of total federal personal income taxes in 2006 and the 5 Percenters paid 60%. (Politifact puts a finer point on the various contributions one makes toward the tax burden and finds that 1 Percenters actually pay 28.1% of total federal tax dollars. The point remains that the notion that rich people don't pay taxes is bogus.)
Before the market crashed again with the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, 1 Percenters owned 38.3% of stocks, while the top 20% controlled fully 91% of the stock market. Nine in 10 1 Percenter households held more than $10,000 worth of stock. There's more. While the percentages of wealth controlled by the top of the top hasn't changed much over a long historical spectrum, it has intensified over the past 30 years, which coincided with America's change from manufacturing leader to financial services powerhouse. Over that time, according to Dumhoff, 42% of wealth created from 1983 to 2004 went to the 1 percenters. The bottom 80% received just 6% of the new wealth. Dumhoff's study is filled with fascinating facts as well as the occasional dose of incendiary political rhetoric. He labels those who want to eliminate the estate tax as "ultra-conservatives," a term he uses at least four times. Otherwise, though, it is a sobering study of American disparity. "Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10 percent of the people own the United States of America," Dumhoff writes. It's About More Than Income and Wealth
In short, the "Occupation" protesters have it at least thematically right about wealth control, though none of these numbers say a thing about the root of their discontent and whether the wrath should be directed towards Wall Street or Washington.