Occupy Wall Street Actually in the 1%

NEW YORK(TheStreet)-- Occupy Wall Street protesters may not like the so-called 1%. But they will be surprised to learn that they rank pretty close to the top when looking at data on world income distribution.

There have been plenty of figures in recent weeks on the widening income inequality between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S. over the last few decades. The numbers are indeed staggering.

According to the Congressional Budget Office's latest report, income grew by 60% between 1979 and 2007 but it did not grow evenly. Incomes at the poorest fifth grew 18%, while the richest fifth saw incomes surge 65%. The top percentile saw incomes jump 275%.

While on the subject of income inequality, why not look at global income distribution as well? According to an article that appeared in The New York Times earlier this year, America is still a very wealthy country.

The article points to some interesting data in a book called the Haves and the Have-Nots by World Bank Economist Branko Milanovic. Apparently, a typical person in the bottom 5% of America's income distribution, those who probably make $6,700 a year, is richer than 68% of the world's population.

Even more stunning is a chart that shows that America's poorest 5% are richer than India's richest 5%.

The data adjusts for the cost of living differences in different countries.

The book makes the point that your lifetime income is, in the final analysis, dependent upon where you are born.

This isn't to suggest that protesters have no reason to complain. What also matters is "relative poverty" -- the way individuals perceive their position in a society. On that score, measured by the Gini coefficient, the U.S. ranks pretty poorly compared with developed peers and even developing nations such as India and Pakistan.

That kind of inequality is bound to breed discontent.

-- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj from New York

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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