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The astonishing rise in wealth inequality, in one gif

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Here's a stunning fact from researchers Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman's on wealth inequality in the United States: the top 0.1 percent's share of the national wealth is almost as large as that of the bottom 90 percent. That is, about 160,000 families control almost as much wealth as 144.6 million families. The latter group isn't necessarily poor; it includes families with net worths up to $660,000, with a mean of $84,000. But the cutoff for the top 0.1 percent is a net worth of $20.6 million.

This GIF, drawn from an interactive chart The Economist made based on Saez and Zucman's data, tells the story of how we got to this point, covering the years 1917 to 2012:

saez zucman

(Saez/Zucman and The Economist)

The data gets even more striking the further up the wealth distribution you go. As Matt Yglesias noted last month, Saez and Zucman's data also suggests that the top 0.01 percent — a mere 16,070 families, or roughly 32,000 people, with a wealth cutoff of $111 million — controls about 11 percent of the country's wealth.

These disparities can have dramatic societal consequences. Here, Ezra Klein explains how wealth inequality can undermine American democracy: