Top U.S. Incomes Grew Five-Fold in 2009, to a $519 Million Average

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During the depths of the recession in 2009, as millions of Americans lost their jobs, homes and life savings, the highest-paid earners in the United States saw their average incomes increase more than five-fold from 2008, according to new data from the federal government.

The 74 people who earned more than $50 million last year -- the highest income category measured by the Social Security Administration -- saw their average incomes skyrocket from $91.8 million in 2008 to a mind-boggling $518.8 million in 2009.

These 74 people earned an average of $10 million -- per week. Meanwhile, half of all American wage-earners, or about 75 million people, earned less than $505 per week.

$10 Million Per Week Vs. $505 Per Week

Even though the absolute number of earners in the over-$50 million income category decreased from 131 to 74 in 2009, the combined wages of that group increased by an astonishing $26.5 billion, from $11.9 billion in 2008 to $38.4 billion in 2009.

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These 74 people earned a combined $38.4 billion last year, or as much as the 19 million lowest-paid American workers, combined. In 2009, the average income earned by all Americans fell by $384 to $39,269 and the median income fell by $253 to $26,261.

These figures were revealed by the Social Security Administration on October 15th, and were first reported by David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The New York Times, who now writes for Tax.com, the website of Tax Analysts, a nonprofit tax analysis group based in Falls Church, Virginia.

The names of the top 74 earners were not disclosed, but they were "most likely Wall Street traders who earned bonuses or corporate executives cashing in deferred compensation that accumulated over the years, or even highly paid athletes," Bloomberg said, citing Johnston.

In an email, Johnston told DailyFinance that the top 74 earners also does not include most hedge fund managers because much of their "investment" income is not counted as wages.

An "Orgy of Money Exhibitionism"

"This systematic destruction of the working class and middle class has come during an era notable for celebrating the super-rich just for being super-rich," Johnston wrote. "From the Forbes 400 launch in 1982 and Robin Leach's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in 1984 to the faux reality of the multiplying Real Housewives shows, money voyeurism has grown in tandem with stagnant to falling incomes for the vast majority. There has also been huge income growth at the top and the economic children of income inequality: budget deficits and malign neglect of our commonwealth."

"This orgy of money exhibitionism has created a society in which commas - it takes three to be a billionaire - count more than character," Johnston continued. "We have gone so far down this path that we bailed out bankers, allowing them to keep the untaxed wealth in their deferral accounts and, with a few exceptions, retaining shareholder value, while wiping out investors in General Motors and Chrysler as a condition of their bailouts. And while autoworkers had to take severe pay cuts, bonus time on Wall Street is at new record levels."
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