First, many Americans believe that despite some economic differences, America is a middle-class society and most have the means to live comfortably (Mantsios 333). However, as Gregory Mantsios points out, there are "enormous different in the economic status" of Americans (334).
There are enormous differences in the economic status of American citizens. A sizeable proportion of the U.S. population occupies opposite ends of the economic spectrum. Sixty percent of the American population holds less than 4 percent of the nation's wealth. While the real income of the top 1 percent of U.S. families skyrocketed by 89 percent during the economic growth period from 1977 to 1995, the income of the middle fifth of the population actually declined by 13 percent during that same period. This led one prominent economist to describe economic growth as a "spectator sport for the majority of American families." (Mantsios 334)
The level of inequality is sometimes difficult to comprehend fully with dollar figures and percentages.
The well-known economist Paul Samuelson helped his students visualized the distribution of income by asking them to picture an income pyramid made of children's blocks, with each layer of blocks representing $1000. It showed that the distribution of income is heavily skewed; the upper-income families take the high share of the national income, and the remaining income is distributed among the middle-income and low-income families.
According to the Fed, "average inflation-adjusted family incomes fell 2.3 percent between 2001 and 2004, to $70,700. The median family income rose slightly, to $43,200, and the big difference between the median and average reflects how skewed the income distribution is". Between 2001 and 2004, it became even more skewed, with the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer (Barbara Ehrenreich).