For much of the past decade, policymakers and analysts have decried America's incredibly low savings rate, noting that U.S. households save a fraction of the money of the rest of the world. Citing a myriad of causes -- from cheap credit to exploitative bank practices -- they've noted that the average family puts away less than 4 percent of its income.
"Wealth Inequality in America," a six-minute video produced by a YouTube user named "Politizane," casts an interesting angle on the plummeting savings rate. Set to depressing piano music and packed with crystal-clear animations, it gives a powerful snapshot of the American economic landscape. Noting that "The top 1 percent own nearly half the country's stocks, bonds, and mutual funds," the video goes on to contrast those impressive holdings with the rest of the country. By comparison, it points out, the bottom 50 percent of earners own only 0.5 percent of those investments.
It isn't hard to see why there is such a yawning gap between the richest Americans and the rest of us. Since 1976, the share of national income earned by the top one percent of workers has nearly tripled, from 9 percent to 24 percent. It's not hard to see why their share has increased: As Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently pointed out, the economy has roughly doubled in size over the last 30 years -- and, in an ideal world, more money in the economy should mean more money in everyone's pocket.
But the distribution of this huge economic bonanza has been startlingly uneven. While the earnings of the top 1 percent have tripled, the average household income has effectively stagnated. Put another way, there's a reason Americans haven't saved: they haven't had much money to save.
In terms of information, Politizane's video isn't offering anything new: Its analysis of American perceptions of wealth distribution, the line between rich and poor and the issue of America's wealth continuum echo stories that have been in the media for years. But there's something about seeing the country's wealth gap in easy-to-follow animations that allows the dry analysis to hit home. Or, as the video puts it, these illustrations make it easier for viewers to "wake up and realize that the reality in this country is not at all what we think it is."
9 Ways Sequestration Will Affect You
Video Showing the Huge Gap Between Super Rich and Everyone Else Goes Viral
If you have a child in public school, watch out: $406 million is scheduled to get axed from the Head Start budget, which means that 70,000 kids will be kicked out of the program. Another $840 million is going to get pulled out of special education programs, and the White House estimates that another 10,000 teachers' jobs will be put at risk.
If you're planning to fly anywhere, be sure to pack an extra paperback: The TSA's airport security budget will be cut by $323 million, which means that your already-long check-in line will get even longer. And, while we're at it, it looks like there will be about 10 percent fewer air traffic controllers on the job, which is sure to slow things down even more.
Remember the floods and hurricanes that have devastated large swathes of the country over the past few years? Remember all the complaints we heard (and made) about FEMA's sluggish response to those disasters? Well, get ready for more of the same: Sequestration is going to cut $375 million from FEMA's disaster relief budget.
If you like meat -- or any food, really -- now might be a good time to stock up. The food inspectors who make sure your ground beef isn't ground horse and your chicken isn't a petri dish of harmful bacteria are about to be furloughed. Even non-carnivores are facing bad news: After a $206 million cut to its budget, the FDA will have to cut back on most of its food inspection programs.
Sequestration won't be bad news for everyone: If you're a criminal, it might be cause to celebrate. After all, with $355 million being cut from prison funding, convicts could be out on the street sooner than they expected. And, with $480 million being cut from the FBI's budget, if you've committed a crime recently, you might not need to worry as much about covering your tracks.
If you're a virus, things are looking up for you and your relatives, too. The National Institutes of Health are losing $1.6 billion and the Centers for Disease Control will say goodbye to $323 million. From research to public health programs, this will translate into a real downgrade to our nation's health care backbone.
Unfortunately, things won't be great if you want to take a vacation: With $110 million being cut from the National Park Service budget, many park services will be cut back or closed. In other words, if you're one of the 250,000 people who were planning to visit the Grand Canyon this year, you should prepare for a delayed opening and reduced options.
While not all federal student aid programs will take a hit in 2013, sequestration is on track to make things tough for low-income college students. The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which can give a needy student up to $4,000 a year, will likely be cut by 8.2 percent, as will federal work study programs. And for students who want to borrow money, student loan origination fees will also go up.
Here's a silver lining to sequestration: It will be educational. For years, this nation has been in the midst of an argument about what role the federal government has and should have in our daily lives. For anyone who has wondered what the government really does for them, the next few months will be an outstanding lesson in where, exactly, your tax money goes.