Top 20 billionaires worth as much as half of America

The real wealth gap in America isn’t between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. It’s between the 0.00001 percent and everybody else.

A new study from the Institute for Policy Studies left-leaning think tank says the richest 400 Americans have a combined net worth of $2.34 trillion — equal to that of the bottom 61 percent of the U.S. population, or about 194 million people.

Even among the top 400 there’s a great divide. The richest 20 billionaires in America have a combined net worth of $732 billion. That’s more than the bottom half of the American population, or 152 million people.

The report said the distribution of wealth in America no longer resembles a pyramid — it’s more like Seattle’s Space Needle.

Westend61 | Getty Images The Seattle skyline with the space needle.

Westend61 | Getty Images
The Seattle skyline with the space needle.

“The higher up you go up our contemporary wealth ladder, the greater the imbalance,” said the report, called “Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us.”

It said the “bulge” at the top of the Space Needle represents America’s wealthiest 0.1 percent, an estimated 115,000 households with a net worth starting at $20 million. Dining in the Needle’s rotating luxury restaurant are America’s top 400 billionaires, each with a minimum net worth of $1.7 billion.

Then on top of the Needle — apparently defying physics as well as economic gravity — sits a Gulfstream 650 private jet holding the 20 richest Americans. The group includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and the Koch brothers, as well as members of the Walton and Mars families.

The jet metaphor is appropriate, the report says, since “very few on the Forbes 400, we can safely assume, fly on commercial flights.”

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