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The rich get richer through the recovery


The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s total income in 2012, the highest level recorded since the government began collecting the relevant data a century ago, according to an updated study by the prominent economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty.


The top 1 percent took more than one-fifth of the income earned by Americans, one of the highest levels on record since 1913, when the government instituted an income tax.


The figures underscore that even after the recession the country remains in a new Gilded Age, with income as concentrated as it was in the years that preceded the Depression of the 1930s, if not more so.


High stock prices, rising home values and surging corporate profits have buoyed the recovery-era incomes of the most affluent Americans, with the incomes of the rest still weighed down by high unemployment and stagnant wages for many blue- and white-collar workers.


“These results suggest the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s,” Mr. Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in his analysis of the data.


The income share of the top 1 percent of earners in 2012 returned to the same level as before both the Great Recession and the Great Depression: just above 20 percent, jumping to about 22.5 percent in 2012 from 19.7 percent in 2011.


That increase is probably in part due to one-time factors. Congress made a last-minute deal to avoid the expiration of all of the Bush-era tax cuts in January. That deal included a number of tax increases on wealthy Americans, including bumping up levies on investment income. Seeing the tax changes coming, many companies gave large dividends and investors cashed out.


But the economists noted that the trends looked the same for income figures including and excluding realized capital gains — implying that the temporary tax moves were not the only reason the top 1 percent did so well relative to everyone else in 2012.

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