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One Percent Gives Up Ground — to the Five Percent

Upper Middle Class Couple
Willie B. Thomas | Vetta | Getty Images
Upper Middle Class Couple

A new report shows that the One Percenters have grown even further removed from the rest of America.

The report, from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, shows that the average wealth of the top one percent is now 288 times the median wealth for Americans.

That number is up more than 50 percent since 2007, up 85 percent since 1989 and nearly double the levels of 1962. The chart uses Federal Reserve data and analysis from Edward Wolff, the wealth expert and economics professor at NYU.

The study found that the One Percent holds 35 percent of the nation's stocks. Despite talk of the "democratization of stocks" during the 1990s and 2000s, only 31 percent of Americans have stock holdings worth $10,000 or more.

The takeaway from these numbers seems to be clear: the rich are getting richer at the expense of (or at least despite) the rest of the population.

But there is another chart buried in the report that is equally interesting. It shows that the total share of wealth held by One Percenters is essentially flat since 2007, at 35 percent. Their share has fallen since 1989, when they held 37 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Of course, you won’t read many headlines that read “Rich Hold Lower Share of Nation’s Wealth.” (Read more: $6 Million Gets You into the One Percent at 40)

Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute and one of the paper’s authors, said that the difference between the numbers is a largely technical. He said that it depends on which time period you use as a starting point. And the ratio of One Percenters with the median wealth is more a reflection of the middle class losing wealth than the One Percent gaining wealth.

“The middle class has clearly been hammered, so that changes the denominator,” he said.

In fact, the group that’s done the best in terms of their share of national wealth is the 95th through the 99th percentile, those just below the One Percent. Their share has soared from 22 percent in 1989 to 27 percent in 2010. (Read more: The Fear and Loathing of the One Percent)

So it's true that the One Percent has done well. The Five Percent has done even better. And both have done better than the middle class.



-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter:
@robtfrank