Someone is always straining to find the bad news in America's greater wealth. The New York Times reported in 2005 that the number of households with assets worth more than $10 million grew 400 percent since 1980. The Times called this a sign of increasing concentration of wealth. Reynolds counters, "Having four times as many wealthy households in 2001 as in 1980 suggests wider ownership of stocks, bonds and larger homes -- less concentration of wealth, rather than more."
The economy is not a zero-sum game, frozen in place. A Business Week article in 2004 reported that the top 50 percent of families own 95 percent of the country's assets, meaning "the gains from rising wealth have effectively left out half the population." Reynolds explains that the wealthy tend to be older and more established. They will be replaced by younger workers as they age in turn: "The top 10-50 percent as measured by net worth will typically spend most of their wealth on retirement, then die and be replaced by an entirely different group of top wealth holders."
What's most important to wealth creation in the long run is human capital, and that has become more widely dispersed. According to Reynolds, "fewer than 8 percent of those above the age of 25 had a college degree in 1960, but that fraction doubled to more than 16 percent in 1980, and nearly doubled again to almost 28 percent in 2004."
It is America -- not just the rich -- that is getting richer, even if Washington's newly empowered populists don't want to hear it.
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