Cross-posted at Thick Culture.

The Occupy Wall Street protests have garnered a great deal of attention in recent weeks. The core argument is that the “top one percent” has gotten a free ride in the last few decades, particularly during the last few years where the financial sector has seemingly not been held to account for their role in the financial crisis. But who is the “top one percent”?

Suzy Khimm on Ezra Klein’s blog sheds light on this question.

You’d be in the top 1 percent of U.S. households if your income in 2010 was at least $516,633. Your net worth in 2007 was $8,232,000 or more, and your average income this year is $1,530,773.

Khimm also shares some charts from Dave Gilson that looks deeper into who these “1 percenters” really are. In this chart, he notes that those in the top one percent have a broad range of professions. You’ll note from the chart than only 14 percent come from the financial sector, and a scant 2 percent are classified as “entrepreneurs.” As a side note, how did any professors make this list (1.8 percent)!

This data doesn’t play into the story the “99 percenters” want to tell about the “top 1 percent.” The preferred narrative is that the top one percent come from the financial sector (e.g. their wealth is not earned in the same way an entrepreneur’s wealth is earned).

But another of Gilson’s charts does help the 99 percenter’s story. According to this chart, the top one percent owns a majority share of the nation’s stock/mutual funds, securities, and business equity) when compared to the “bottom 90 percent.”

What does this say about the validity of the Occupy Wall street movement? Should they be focusing their efforts on challenging concentrated wealth regardless of whether it is in the financial sector or not? Or is Wall Street the perfect villain?  Does it matter if the story of who constitutes the “top 1 percent” is more muddled if the objective is met? Do the means justify the ends?


Jose Marichal, PhD, is an assistant professor of political science at California Lutheran University. He teaches and writes about: public policy, race and politics, civic engagement, the Internet and politics, and community development.  He is founder of the blog ThickCulture.

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