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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Robert Samuelson looks at the damage the recession has done to wealthier Americans:
With secure jobs and ample incomes, the rich and the near rich are supposed to be insulated from economic slumps. Well, not this time. Many feel fearful, threatened, and impoverished. In a recent Unity Marketing survey of consumers with incomes exceeding $250,000, 60 percent said their financial situation had deteriorated; 39 percent said bonuses or commissions had been cut; 29 percent said their regular income had been reduced; 8 percent said they'd lost their jobs; and 4 percent said their hours had been reduced. Even with a partial stock-market rebound, many of America's most affluent feel vulnerable to layoffs and lost income, just like other Americans. "This has been an equal-opportunity recession," argues Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing.
He also considers the impact it will have on the rest of the country:
Consumption spending, the economy's main engine, is skewed toward the upper classes, because they have most of the income. In 2009, households with more than $200,000 in income account for 3.4 percent of the total but will generate almost 14 percent of consumer spending, estimates economist Sterne. Households with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 represent about 14 percent of the population and 34 percent of spending. Together, these groups generate nearly half of U.S. consumption, although they're only a sixth of the population.

Similarly, the rich pay most of the taxes. In 2006, the richest 1 percent paid 28 percent of all federal taxes, estimates the CBO. The richest 10 percent (including the top 1 percent) paid 55 percent. The system is progressive—that is, the richer people get, the more of their income they pay in taxes. In 2006, the effective rate for the top 1 percent was 31 percent, reflecting all federal taxes. By contrast, the poorest fifth paid an effective rate of 4 percent. (State and local taxes are less progressive, because they rely more heavily on regressive sales taxes.)

The wealthy dominate charitable giving. In 2004, families with a net worth exceeding $5 million made up about 1.5 percent of all U.S. families but accounted for 27 percent of contributions, according to the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College. Those with a net worth between $1 million and $5 million, about 7 percent of all families, represented another 20 percent of contributions. So, a tenth of American families made nearly half of all gifts.

Wealthy individuals are an important source of money for venture capital—funds invested in startup companies. Individuals and families represent about 10 percent of VC money (most of the rest comes from pension funds, college endowments, and insurance companies).

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