In this turbulent economic time, the 1 percent benefited disproportionately. Wealthy people in this country are standing at the top of the mountain, enjoying the vista, basically not even breaking a second-home sweat – while the rest of Americans labor up the incline, gasping for breath. Income inequality is at an epic point, the highest since the Great Depression. In 2011, the average income of a person in the top 1 percent was nearly $880,000. For the bottom 90 percent, the average income was just under $30K.
Some investment opportunities are only open to the few. There are certain financial opportunities – like hedge funds – that are only available to those with “accredited investor” status. Essentially, that means if you have a net worth that exceeds $1 million or if you make more than $200,000 a year, these investment opportunities are available to you but not others. If you’re able to take advantage of unique, limited investment opportunities, you get the opportunity to beat the S&P 500, while if you’re one of the 60 million workers invested in a 401(k), your returns are probably tied more to the performance of the S&P 500.
Resources are on call. What goes hand-in-hand with excellent investment opportunities? Resources. The 1 percent typically also has the backing of highly-paid legal and tax advisory firms to ensure that assets are protected, loopholes fully and legally exploited, and that every possible advantage is leveraged. The average American simply does not have the quiver full of resources to target and maximize positive life-altering opportunities.
Cash on hand. There’s a real advantage to having liquid assets. The wealthy know that cash on hand represents another form of power: the ability to reap the benefits of a down economy. When the bottom fell out of the housing market, individuals with cash on hand were able to pounce on extraordinarily cheap real estate, another investment for the future. Even if the real estate market takes longer than anticipated to rebound, these people aren’t relying on these investments for immediate returns.
The wealthy are not one shock away. A 2013 study is troubling: nearly half of American households, more than 132 million people, are one emergency away from financial ruin. In addition to people who don’t have three months of savings – the “liquid asset poor” – another 26 percent are “net worth asset poor,” meaning their debt far surpasses any assets they may have. Translation: no safety nets. That’s simply not the case for the 1 percent, who can typically weather an economic storm.
It’s long past time to come to a resolution on the debt recovery plan that would help all Americans, regardless of financial power. A failure driven by partisanship will be dangerous, risking the livelihoods of people around the world, up and down the economic value chain. The upcoming sequester issue is another opportunity in a long string of chances to show the courage, resourcefulness and fortitude we prize as defining American leadership.
America has unique regenerative capabilities – rallying in times of challenge to emerge on the other side, defiant and ever stronger. I hope and believe our government will be deserving of our confidence as it passes the policies that will enable our country to move into a period of growth and stability for everyone once more.
Fertik is the CEO and founder of Reputation.com and a member of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.