Americans Wealthier Than You Think
Independently Laura McKenna added, “How rich is the United States? Our poor are richer than the richest in India.” She pointed to NYT economics editor Catherine Rampell‘s review of Branko Milanovic’s The Haves and the Have-Nots and, in particular, this graphic:
Brazil’s bottom ventile — that is, the poorest 5 percent of the Brazilian population, shown as the left-most point on the line — is about as poor as anyone in the entire world, registering a percentile in the single digits when compared to the income distribution worldwide. Meanwhile, Brazil also has some of the world’s richest, as you can see by how high up on the chart Brazil’s top ventile reaches. In other words, this one country covers a very broad span of income groups.
Now take a look at America.
Notice how the entire line for the United States resides in the top portion of the graph? That’s because the entire country is relatively rich. In fact, America’s bottom ventile is still richer than most of the world: That is, the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.
Now check out the line for India. India’s poorest ventile corresponds with the 4th poorest percentile worldwide. And its richest? The 68th percentile. Yes, that’s right: America’s poorest are, as a group, about as rich as India’s richest.
While I knew instinctively that poor Americans are better off than Indians in the middle class, how can they be better off than India’s rich? After all, India is one of the fastest growing countries on the planet and has some very rich people!
But, of course, both countries are also very large, so a ventile covers a lot of people. The USA’s lowest ventile tops out at a staggering $6700, which is a fortune in India. And, while there are billionaires and multi-millionaires in India, they’re a drop in the bucket of a top ventile that includes 59,550,000 people.