With the rise of the Occupy movement and confirmation from the nonpartisan CBO that the U.S. income gap is at its highest level since 1929, defensive conservatives by necessity spawned a thriving if laughable cottage industry in income inequality denialism. Now with word from the New York Times that the share of income for the top 1 percent dropped from 23 to 17 percent between 2007 and 2009, you can expect more cries of "so get a time machine, Occupy Wall Street!"
But the right-wing echo chamber need not worry about the plight of the tragically rich. While working Americans continue to struggle as the economy slowly recovers from the Bush recession, the rebound of Wall Street has ensured that the upper crust has already recouped its losses. As the data show, millionaires are not only making a rapid comeback. For the gilded class, the economic downturn is already over.
Seizing on federal tax data showing that the average income for the top 1 percent fell to $957,000 in 2009 from $1.4 million in 2007, conservatives have complained that income inequality is so over:
Analysts say the drop largely reflects the stock market plunge, and most think top incomes recovered somewhat in 2010, as Wall Street rebounded and corporate profits grew. Still, the drop alters a figure often emphasized by inequality critics, and it has gone largely unnoticed outside the blogosphere.
By focusing on the top 1 percent, the Occupy Wall Street movement has made economic fairness a subject of street protest and political debate.
"It's very interesting that this has become such a big topic now when the numbers are back to where they were in the 1990s," said Steven Kaplan, an economist at the University of Chicago's business school. "People didn't seem to be complaining about it then."
That might have been because during the 8-year Clinton boom that generated 23 million new jobs, the rising tide for once did lift all (or at least most) boats. But after the Bush recession that started in December 2007, many Americans' dinghies were capsized by yachts once again cruising at full speed. As it turns out, the recession that has proved so devastating for most Americans for the wealthy has been merely a hiccup.