The share of income (including capital gains) held by the top 1 percent grew from 10 percent in both 1960 and 1980 to 21.5 percent in 2000. Since then, it fell to under 17 percent in 2002 before rising to 23.5 percent in 2007. With the onset of the Great Recession, the wealthiest people actually had their incomes decline by the greatest amount as the share of the top 1 percent fell to 18 percent in 2009 before rising to 21.4 for the 2012 and 2013 on average. (These two years have to be combined because changes in tax rates for the very rich led to many people moving income and capital gains to 2012 — which resulted in much lower incomes in 2013). The movements of the top .01 percent followed a similar trajectory.

Mr. Saez, in a September 2013 paper titled “Striking It Richer,” created a splash when he reported that 95 percent of the gains of the growth between 2009 and 2012 were captured by the richest 1 percent. Other analysts have done similar calculations. Together, they have created the impression that the rich were increasing their share of the economic pie at an alarming rate.

But these “shares of growth” can be misleading over short time spans. The top 1 percent share’s rose from 2009 to 2012, but only after it declined more from 2007 to 2009. The finding that inequality has exploded recently is based on the bounce-back from the unusually low level of capital gains in 2009. If we look at the whole period from 2007 to 2012-13, the share of the top 1 percent decreased as the income loss for the top 1 percent was higher than for other groups.[italics added]

This is from Stephen J. Rose, “Measuring Inequality Trends During the Great Recession,” New York Times, February 17, 2015.

Rose is a research professor at the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy.

Of course, these data don’t track the same people over time. There is much movement in and out of income categories. That’s a big caveat. Still, the data are interesting given how much we’ve heard about the top 1% getting almost all the gains.

HT to Alan Reynolds.