One chart shows how the top 1% of Americans have grown their wealth in the past 20 years

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  • The top 1% of Americans increased their wealth by $4 trillion from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020.
  • That group of households together held wealth of $38.61 trillion at the end of last year.
  • In contrast, the bottom 50% held $2.49 trillion, or 2.0% of household wealth.
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From the end of 2019 to 2020, the top 1% of Americans added just about $4 trillion to their wealth. 

According to data from the Federal Reserve, the top 1% of Americans held about $34.58 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2019. By the fourth quarter of 2020, they had $38.61 trillion.

They gained just about that much in 2019 too; the top 1% had $30.35 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2018, and had $34.58 trillion by the end of 2019.

Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of Americans don’t even hold as much wealth in total as the top 1% gained in 2020. At the end of 2020, the bottom 50% had $2.49 trillion in total household wealth.

The bottom half increased their wealth by $0.47 trillion from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020. While that’s a far cry from the gains the top 1% saw, it’s still almost a 25% increase from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020. 

The Federal Reserve provides data on household wealth for different groups, including broken down by wealth percentile. The following chart highlights household wealth by wealth percentile over the past two decades:

Even before 2020, household wealth did not increase much for the bottom 50%. The bottom 50% held 3.4% of wealth in the first quarter of 2000, higher than the 2.0% they held at the end of 2020. 

Inequality has worsened during the pandemic

Broadly, the pandemic has seen a K-shaped recovery, where higher-income Americans see their wages and jobs grow, and lower-income Americans experience the opposite. But income inequality isn’t a new pandemic problem — as the chart shows, vast disparities existed prior to March 2020.

But low-wage and non-white workers have been continually hit the hardest throughout the pandemic. And post-pandemic prospects for low-wage workers are also murky: most of them may have to change careers, and pick up new skills to stay afloat.

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