We are the 99%

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This article is about the slogan. For the movement, see Occupy movement.
"We are the 99%" poster referencing the Polish Solidarity movement

We are the 99% is a political slogan widely used by the Occupy movement.[1] It was originally the name of a Tumblr blog page launched in late August 2011 by a 28-year-old New York activist going by the name of "Chris". It is a variation on the phrase "We The 99%" from an August 2011 flyer for the NYC General Assembly.[2][3][4]

The phrase directly refers to the concentration of income and wealth among the top earning 1%,[5] and reflects an opinion that the "99%" are paying the price for the mistakes of a tiny minority within the upper class.[6][7][8] The phrase was picked up as a unifying slogan[9] by the Occupy movement.[10] According to IRS reports, as of 2009 all individuals with incomes less than $343,927 belong to the lower 99% of the United States' income distribution.[11]


Mainstream accounts[edit]

The slogan "We are the 99%" is a slogan popularized by the blog "wearethe99percent.tumblr.com".[12][13] A 2011 Rolling Stone article attributed to anthropologist David Graeber the suggestion that the Occupy movement represented the 99%.[14]

Joseph Stiglitz
Graph showing changes in real US incomes in top 1%, middle 60%, and bottom 20% from 1979 through 2007.[15]

The origin of influence of the phrase is regarded in mainstream sources to have derived from economist Joseph Stiglitz's May 2011 article "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" in Vanity Fair, in which he was criticizing the economic inequality present in the United States.[16] In the article Stiglitz spoke of the damaging impact of economic inequality involving 1% of the U.S. population owning a large portion of economic wealth in the country, while 99% of the population hold much less economic wealth than the richest 1%:

[I]n our democracy, 1% of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income … In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1% control 40% … [as a result] the top 1% have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99% live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1% eventually do learn. Too late.

—Joseph Stiglitz, "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%", Vanity Fair, May 2011[17]

Variations on the slogan[edit]

  • "We are the 1 percent; we stand with the 99 percent" – by members of the "one percent" who wish to express their support for higher taxes, such as nonprofit organizations Resource Generation and Wealth for the Common Good.[18][19]
  • "We are the 99.9%" – by Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Krugman in a New York Times op-ed arguing that the original slogan sets the bar too low when considering recent changes in distribution of income. In particular, Krugman cites a 2005 Congressional Budget Office report indicating that between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted income for the middle of the income distribution rose 21%, while for the top 0.1% it rose by 400%.[20]
  • "We are the 53%" – In October 2011, in response to the 99% slogan, conservative RedState.com blogger Erick Erickson (along with Josh Treviño, communications director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and filmmaker Mike Wilson[21]) launched a counter-slogan—"We are the 53%". Erikson was referring to the 53% of American workers who pay Federal income taxes, and criticizing the 47% of workers who don't pay Federal income tax for what Erikson describes as being "subsidized" by those who pay taxes. However, the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute and Brookings Institute both reported that roughly half of the workers who don't pay Federal income tax earn below the tax threshold while the other half pay no income tax due to "provisions that benefit senior citizens and low-income working families with children."[22]
  • "Fighting fire with empty words, While the banks get fat, And the poor stay poor, And the rich get rich, And the cops get paid, To look away: As the one percent rules America" – Lyrics taken from the track 'Spreading the Disease', 1988, by the progressive heavy metal band Queensrÿche.

Economic context[edit]

Occupy Wall Street protestors in Oakland holding "We are the 99%"-themed signs

"We are the 99%" is a political slogan and an implicit economic claim of "Occupy" protesters. It refers to the increased concentration of income and wealth since the 1970s among the top 1% of income earners in the United States.

Studies by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and others[23] show that income inequality has grown significantly since the late 1970s,[24][25][26][27][28] after several decades of stability.[29][30] Between 1979 and 2007, the top earning 1 percent of Americans have seen their after-tax-and-benefit incomes grow by an average of 275%, compared to around 40-60% for the lower 99 percent.[31][32] Since 1979 the average pre-tax income for the bottom 90% of households has decreased by $900, while that of the top 1% increased by over $700,000. This imbalance became further exacerbated by changes making federal income taxes less progressive. From 1992-2007 the top 400 income earners in the U.S. saw their income increase 392% and their average tax rate reduced by 37%.[33] In 2009, the average income of the top 1% was $960,000 with a minimum income of $343,927.[11][34][35] In 2007, the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country's total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%. Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country's wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%. Financial inequality (total net worth minus the value of one's home)[36] was greater than inequality in total wealth, with the top 1% of the population owning 42.7%, the next 19% of Americans owning 50.3%, and the bottom 80% owning 7%.[37] However, after the Great Recession which started in 2007, the share of total wealth owned by the top 1% of the population grew from 34.6% to 37.1%, and that owned by the top 20% of Americans grew from 85% to 87.7%. The Great Recession also caused a drop of 36.1% in median household wealth but a drop of only 11.1% for the top 1%, further widening the gap between the 1% and the 99%.[37][38][39] During the economic expansion between 2002 and 2007, the income of the top 1% grew 10 times faster than the income of the bottom 90%. In this period 66% of total income gains went to the 1%, who in 2007 had a larger share of total income than at any time since 1928.[40] This is in stark contrast with surveys of US populations that indicate an "ideal" distribution that is much more equal, and a widespread ignorance of the true income inequality and wealth inequality.[41]

Occupy Wall Street Poster
Protesters with the "99%" t-shirts at Occupy Wall Street on November 17, 2011 near the New York City Hall.

Sources vary on the minimum yearly income to be considered among the 1%,[42] ranging from about $500,000[43] to $1.3 million.[44] This is somewhat below the average compensation range of CEOs whose salaries average $3.9 million according to the AFL-CIO. CEOs salaries average $10.6 million for those whose companies are in the S&P 500 and $19.8 million for companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.[42]

A chart showing the disparity in income distribution in the United States.[40][45] Wealth inequality and income inequality have been central concerns among OWS protesters.[46][47][48] CBO data shows that in 1980, the top 1% earned 9.1% of all income, while in 2006 they earned 18.8% of all income.[49]

Following the recession of the late 2000s (decade), the economy in the United States continued to experience a jobless recovery. New York Times columnist Anne-Marie Slaughter described pictures on the "We are the 99" website as "page after page of testimonials from members of the middle class who took out loans to pay for education, took out mortgages to buy their houses and a piece of the American dream, worked hard at the jobs they could find, and ended up unemployed or radically underemployed and on the precipice of financial and social ruin."[50] With market uncertainty due to fears of a double-dip recession[51] and the downgrade of the US credit rating in the summer of 2011, the topics of how much the rich pay in taxes[52] and how to solve the nation's economic crisis were predominant in media commentary.[53] When Congress returned from break, proposed policy solutions came from both major parties as the 2012 Republican presidential debates occurred almost simultaneously with President Obama's September 9 proposal of the American Jobs Act. On September 17, President Obama further announced an economic policy proposal for taxing millionaires known as the Buffett Rule. This immediately led to public statements by House Speaker John Boehner,[54] President Obama,[54] and Republican Mitt Romney[55] over whether the Democrats were fomenting "class warfare".[56]

Economist Paul Krugman writes that the We are the 99% slogan "correctly defines the issue as being the middle class versus the elite and also gets past the common but wrong notion that rising inequality is mainly about the well educated doing better than the less educated." However he questions whether the slogan ought to refer to the 99.9 percent, as a large fraction of the top 1 percent’s gains have actually gone to an even smaller group, the top 0.1 percent — the richest one-thousandth of the population. Krugman argues against the idea that the very rich make a special contribution to the economy as "job creators." Few are new economy innovators like Steve Jobs, a recent analysis found that 43% of the top 0.1 percent to be executives at nonfinancial companies, 18% in finance, and another 12% are lawyers or in real estate. Commenting on the ongoing economic crisis he writes, "[the] seemingly high returns before the crisis simply reflected increased risk-taking — risk that was mostly borne not by the wheeler-dealers themselves but either by naïve investors or by taxpayers, who ended up holding the bag when it all went wrong".[20] In general, empirical researches have shown the accuracy of this slogan.[57]


We are the 99% protester at Occupy London

CNBC senior markets writer Jeff Cox reacted negatively to the protest movement,[42] calling the 1% are "the most vilified members of American society" who protesters fail to realize includes not only corporate CEOs (31% of the top earning one percent), bankers and stock traders (13.9%), but also doctors (1.85%), real estate professionals (3.2%) and entertainers in arts, media and sports (1.6%), professors and scientists (1.8%), lawyers (1.22%), farmers and ranchers (0.5%), and pilots (0.2%).[58] Cox also states that the phenomenon of wealth concentration among a small segment of the population is a century old, and argues a direct correlation between this and the health of the stock market, stating that 36.7% of the United States' wealth was controlled by the 1% in 1922, 44.2% when the stock market crashed in 1929, 19.9% in 1976, and has increased since then. Cox also says that it has intensified at the same time that the United States changed from a manufacturing leader to a financial services leader. Cox takes issue with protesters' focus on income and wealth, and with their embrace of allies such as Susan Sarandon and Russell Simmons, who are themselves in the 1%.[42] Joseph Barro of National Review offers similar arguments, asserting that the 1% includes those with incomes beginning at $593,000, which would exclude most Wall Street bankers.[59]

In the United States, Republicans have generally been critical of the movement accusing protesters and their supporters of class warfare. Newt Gingrich called the “concept of the 99 and the one” both divisive and “un-American”. Democrats have offered "cautious support", using the "99%" slogan to argue for the passage of President Obama's jobs act, Internet access rules and voter identification laws, mine safety, and other issues. But both parties agree that the movement has changed public debate. In late February, the New York Times reported that "Whatever the long-term effects of the Occupy Movement, protesters succeeded in implanting “we are the 99 percent” ... into the cultural and political lexicon."[60]

It has been argued by some, such as economic professor Sean Mulholland, that the idea that the richer have become richer while the poor have become poorer is false because data showing that the richest income earners grew significantly richer over the same period that members of poorer classes maintained a fairly constant income rate does not account for the economic mobility of particular households, which have shown both significant upward and downward economic mobility over recent decades.[61]

New Continental Congress[edit]

After the Occupy movement activists' camps started getting uprooted, the Occupy movement came back online proposing a new Declaration of Independence (from Corporations),[62][63] along with a new Continental Congress in Philadelphia.[64]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Occupy Prescott protesters call for more infrastructure investment". Western News&Info, Inc. Retrieved 2011-11-17.  "The "99 percent" phrase has become the slogan of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread throughout the United States."
  2. ^ "We Are the 99 Percent" Creators Revealed Mother Jones Fri Oct. 7, 2011 By Adam Weinstein
  3. ^ ""We Are the 99 Percent" Creators Revealed". Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress. Retrieved 2011-11-17. "It began as a simple little idea, just another blog among millions. The Occupy Wall Street protest was scheduled to begin on September 17, and launching We Are the 99 Percent on Tumblr seemed like a good way to promote it."
  4. ^ "The World's 99 Percent". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  5. ^ Rugaber, Christopher S.; Boak, Josh (January 27, 2014). "Wealth gap: A guide to what it is, why it matters". AP News. Retrieved January 27, 2014. 
  6. ^ Apps, Peter (October 11, 2011). "Wall Street action part of global Arab Spring?". Reuters. Retrieved 2011-11-24.  "What they all share in common is a feeling that the youth and middle class are paying a high price for mismanagement and malfeasance by an out-of-touch corporate, financial and political elite...they took on slogans from U.S. protesters who describe themselves as the "99 percent" paying the price for mistakes by a tiny minority."
  7. ^ "Wall Street protests spread". CBS News. Retrieved 2011-11-17. [dead link]
  8. ^ CBO: Top 1% getting exponentially richer CBS News, October 25, 2011 "The Occupy Wall Street movement has, for the most part, been formed around the idea that wealth distribution in America is unfair, and that the economic system is skewed to reward the already wealthy with the highest gains. A new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) appears to have confirmed that. Specifically, it has confirmed that the rich really are getting richer. Between 1979 and 2007, the top 1% of Americans with the highest incomes have seen their incomes grow by an average of 275%, according to the CBO study (PDF)"
  9. ^ Behind the Occupy Wall Street slogan 'We Are the 99%'
  10. ^ Outside of Wonkland, 'We are the 99%' Is a Pretty Good Slogan
  11. ^ a b Who are the 1 percent?, CNN Money, October 29, 2011
  12. ^ Daniel Indiviglio. "Most Americans Aren't Occupy Wall Street's '99 Percent'". The Atlantic, 10/5/2011.
  13. ^ "We Are the 99 Percent - We are the 99 Percent". Wearethe99percent.tumblr.com. 2011-08-23. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  14. ^ By Jeff Sharlet (2011-11-10). "Inside Occupy Wall Street | Politics News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  15. ^ Kenworthy, L. (August 20, 2010) "The best inequality graph, updated" Consider the Evidence
  16. ^ Gerard Hastings, Christine Domegan. Social Marketing: From Tunes to Symphonies. P241.
  17. ^ Gerard Hastings, Christine Domegan. Social Marketing: From Tunes to Symphonies. P241.
  18. ^ Melissa Bell. "Occupy Wall Street protests get support of the one percent". Washington Post, 10/13/2011.
  19. ^ Amanda Walgrove. "Occupy Tumblr: We Are the 153 Percent". The Faster Times, 10/13/2011.
  20. ^ a b Krugman, Paul (November 24, 2011). "We Are the 99.9%". The New York Times. 
  21. ^ Suzy Khimm. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/conservatives-launch-we-are-the-53-percent-to-criticize-99-percenters/2011/10/10/gIQA70omaL_blog.html Conservatives launch “We are the 53 percent” to criticize 99 percenters, Washington Post, posted October 1, 2011, accessed October 11, 2011
  22. ^ Mark Memmet. For Those Who Aren't Fans Of The '99 Percent,' There's The '53 Percent', NPR, posted October 11, 2011, accessed October 11, 2011
  23. ^ the US Department of Commerce, Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and Internal Revenue Service
  24. ^ "US Census Bureau. (2001). Historical Income Tables – Income Equality.". Archived from the original on 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2007-06-20. 
  25. ^ "Weinberg, D. H. (June 1996). A Brief Look At Postwar U.S. Income Inequality. US Census Bureau." (PDF). Retrieved 2007-06-20. 
  26. ^ "Burtless, G. (January 11, 200). Has U.S. Income Inequality Really Increased?. The Brookings Institute.". Retrieved 2007-06-20. 
  27. ^ "Johnston, D. (March 29, 2007). Income Gap Is Widening, Data Shows. The New York Times". 2007-03-29. Retrieved 2007-06-20. 
  28. ^ "Shaprio, E. (October 17, 2005). New IRS Data Show Income Inequality Is Again of The Rise. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities". Retrieved 2007-06-20. 
  29. ^ Gilbert, Dennis (2002). American Class Structure in an Age of Growing Inequality. Wadsworth. 
  30. ^ Beeghley, Leonard (2004). The Structure of Social Stratification in the United States. Boston, MD: Pearson, Allyn & Bacpn. 
  31. ^ Congressional Budget Office: Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007. October 2011.
  32. ^ During the same time period, income grew 65% for the next highest 19 percent of earners, just under 40% for the middle 60 percent, and 18% for the bottom 20 percent.
  33. ^ It's the Inequality, Stupid By Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot in Mother Jones, March/April 2011 Issue
  34. ^ "Tax Data Show Richest 1 Percent Took a Hit in 2008, But Income Remained Highly Concentrated at the Top." Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Accessed October 2011.
  35. ^ Top Earners Doubled Share of Nation’s Income, Study Finds New York Times By Robert Pear, October 25, 2011
  36. ^ "Financial wealth" is defined by economists as "total net worth minus the value of one's home," including investments and other liquid assets.
  37. ^ a b Occupy Wall Street And The Rhetoric of Equality Forbes November 1, 2011 by Deborah L. Jacobs
  38. ^ Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze—an Update to 2007 by Edward N. Wolff, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, March 2010
  39. ^ Wealth, Income, and Power by G. William Domhoff of the UC-Santa Barbara Sociology Department
  40. ^ a b "Tax Data Show Richest 1 Percent Took a Hit in 2008, But Income Remained Highly Concentrated at the Top. Recent Gains of Bottom 90 Percent Wiped Out." Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Accessed October 2011.
  41. ^ Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time Perspectives on Psychological Science January 2011 6: 9-12
  42. ^ a b c d Cox, Jeff. "Protests Target 'One Percent,' But Who Exactly Are They?". CNBC. October 19, 2011.
  43. ^ Izzo, Phil (October 19, 2011). "What Percent Are You?". The Wall Street Journal. 
  44. ^ Wealth, Income, and Power| by G. William Domhoff| University of California at Santa Cruz
  45. ^ “By the Numbers.” Demos.org. Accessed October 2011.
  46. ^ Alessi, Christopher (October 17, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street's Global Echo". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved October 17, 2011. The Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York City a month ago gained worldwide momentum over the weekend, as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in nine hundred cities protested corporate greed and wealth inequality. 
  47. ^ Jones, Clarence (October 17, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street and the King Memorial Ceremonies". The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 17, 2011. The reality is that 'Occupy Wall Street' is raising the consciousness of the country on the fundamental issues of poverty, income inequality, economic justice, and the Obama administration's apparent double standard in dealing with Wall Street and the urgent problems of Main Street: unemployment, housing foreclosures, no bank credit to small business in spite of nearly three trillion of cash reserves made possible by taxpayers funding of TARP. 
  48. ^ Chrystia Freeland (October 14, 2011). "Wall Street protesters need to find their 'sound bite'". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). Retrieved October 17, 2011. 
  49. ^ Michael Hiltzik (October 12, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street shifts from protest to policy phase". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 17, 2011. 
  50. ^ Anne-Marie Slaughter. "Occupied Wall Street, Seen From Abroad". The New York Times, 10/6/2011.
  51. ^ Sponsored by (June 3, 2011). "America's jobless recovery: Not again". The Economist. Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  52. ^ "Does a secretary pay higher taxes than a millionaire?" PolitiFact. Accessed October 2011.
  53. ^ Global Stock Selloff: Is another financial crisis coming?
  54. ^ a b Jim Kuhnenn Obama Unveils Deficit Reduction Plan, 'Buffett Rule' Tax On Millionaires. Associated Press. September 19, 2011, accessed October 19, 2011.
  55. ^ Boxer, Sarah B. "Romney: Wall Street Protests ‘Class Warfare’ - Sarah B. Boxer". National Journal. Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  56. ^ "Obama Unveils Deficit Reduction Plan, 'Buffett Rule' Tax On Millionaires". Huffingtonpost.com. September 19, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  57. ^ Torija, P. (March 2013). "Do Politicians Serve the One Percent? Evidence in OECD Countries". CITYPERC Working Paper Series. Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  58. ^ Jobs and Income Growth of Top Earners and the Causes of Changing Income Inequality: Evidence from U.S. Tax Return Data Jon Bakija, Adam Cole, Bradley T. Heim (data from 2005, found on table 2)
  59. ^ Josh Barro. "We Are the 99 Percent—Even Rich People". National Review Online, October 5, 2011.
  60. ^ Stelter, Brian. "Camps Are Cleared, but ‘99 Percent’ Still Occupies the Lexicon". The New York Times. 
  61. ^ Sean Mulholland (2012). Is there Income Mobility in America?. Retrieved February 24, 2013. 
  62. ^ A New Declaration of Independence
  63. ^ Video: We The People's NEW Declaration of Independence
  64. ^ New Continental Congress Meets in Philadelphia the Week of July 4, 2012

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]