The lost decade of the top 1%

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Incomes for the top 1 percent have surged since the financial crisis, but are still well below their peak in 2007, according to new data released by the IRS.

Average incomes among the top 1 percent grew 7.7 percent in 2015, reaching $1.36 million, according to Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of Berkeley California, who analyzed the data. That marked a new post-crisis high, according to a report Saez published for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a research organization.

Still, that figure is less than the peak of $1.56 million in 2007, and lower than the $1.37 million level in 2005 — meaning that the top 1 percent have had a "lost decade" in terms of income growth.

The data also suggests that while income inequality has been on the rise over the short term — making it a leading issue on the presidential campaign trail — the wealth gap has actually shrunk over roughly the past decade.

While the incomes of the top 1 percent are down nearly 15 percent from their 2007 peak, to $1.36 million, the average income for the broader population has fallen 7 percent over the same time frame, to an average $61,920.

In 2007, the top 1 percent earned 23.5 percent of the nation's income; in 2015 they earned 22 percent. Even the super-earners — the top tenth of the 1 percent — are still below their peak. Their average incomes of $6.75 million have yet to catch up to their peak of $8.15 million in 2007.

That certainly doesn't mean we should feel sorry for the top earners, who last year grew their incomes at a faster pace than the broader population. The average income of the general population rose 5 percent in 2015, to $61,920. That growth rate was more than 2 percent slower than their wealthier counterparts, according to Saez's analysis.

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