We are the 99%
We are the 99% is a political slogan widely used by the Occupy movement. 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.
The phrase directly refers to the concentration of income and wealth among the top earning 1%, and reflects an opinion that the "99%" are paying the price for the mistakes of a tiny minority within the upper class. The phrase was picked up as a unifying slogan by the Occupy movement. 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.
The slogan "We are the 99%" is a slogan popularized by the blog "wearethe99percent.tumblr.com". A 2011 Rolling Stone article attributed to anthropologist David Graeber the suggestion that the Occupy movement represented the 99%.
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. 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
Non-mainstream accounts do not regard Stiglitz's article as the origin of influence of the term, and claim that other instances of usages of the term 99% are the origin.
Some claim that the expression originated centuries earlier. A 1765 letter to the editor of the New York Gazette reads: "Is it equitable that 99, or rather 999 should suffer for the Extravagance or Grandeur of one? Especially when it is consider’d, that Men frequently owe their Wealth to the Impoverishment of their Neighbours."
The English author George Orwell responded in his diary on June 3, 1940 to a letter in The Daily Telegraph lamenting that the rich would have to part with their cooks during the war: “Apparently nothing will ever teach these people that the other 99 percent of the population exist.” This appears to be the first relatively modern usage of the phrase, although it did not catch on as a slogan until around 2011.
The English author Aldous Huxley, in a letter dated 21 April 1947, responded to a request by his brother Julian, Director-General of UNESCO, for his comments on the proposed Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "...think of what ninety nine percent of the human race want – food, shelter, a secure family life and to be left alone by bosses and busybodies. Unfortunately the one percent who are interested in power and ideals and ideologies are the ones who call the tune." The quote was posted on a UNESCO webpage in 2005, and was included in an article in the Summer 2011 issue of The Journal of Church and State (distributed June 2011).
In his 1973 book, Common Sense II: The Case Against Corporate Tyranny, economist Jeremy Rifkin writes while talking about property, "A democratic economy means more private property for 99 percent of the people of the country and less property for the 1 percent, who, up to now, have lived like royalty on the wealth the rest of us produce.
In 1987, Southern Methodist University economics Professor Ravi Batra reached #1 on the New York Times best seller list with a book arguing that a rise in "the share of wealth held by the richest 1 percent" was connected to speculative manias and depressions. During the 2000 Presidential candidate debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Gore relentlessly and memorably accused his opponent of supporting the "wealthiest one percent" rather than the welfare of everyone else. In 2006, filmmaker and Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson filmed a documentary called The One Percent about the growing wealth-gap between America's wealthy elite compared to the overall citizenry. The film's title referred to the top one-percent of Americans in terms of wealth, who controlled 38% of the nation's wealth in 2001. In 2011, Dan Rather reported that independent media maven Priscilla Grim and her friend Chris launched the "we are the 99%" tumblr blog on September 8, that went viral.
Variations on the slogan
- "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.
- "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%.
- "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) 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."
"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 show that income inequality has grown significantly since the late 1970s, after several decades of stability. 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. 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%. In 2009, the average income of the top 1% was $960,000 with a minimum income of $343,927. 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) 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%. 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%. 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. 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. In 2011, according to PolitiFact and others, 400 Americans own more than 50% of the net wealth of the United States.
Sources vary on the minimum yearly income to be considered among the 1%, ranging from about $500,000 to $1.3 million. 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.
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." With market uncertainty due to fears of a double-dip recession and the downgrade of the US credit rating in the summer of 2011, the topics of how much the rich pay in taxes and how to solve the nation's economic crisis were predominant in media commentary. 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, President Obama, and Republican Mitt Romney over whether the Democrats were fomenting "class warfare".
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". In general, empirical researches have shown the accuracy of this slogan.
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CNBC senior markets writer Jeff Cox reacted negatively to the protest movement, 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%). 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%. 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.
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."
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.
New Continental Congress
After the Occupy movement activists' camps started getting uprooted, the Occupy movement came back online proposing a new Declaration of Independence (from Corporations), along with a new Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to We are the 99% (slogan).|
- 99% Declaration - Official USA website
- 99% v 1%: the data behind the Occupy movement - animation, The Guardian (November 18, 2011).
- Occupy Together – A hub for "Occupy" events occurring across the U.S.
- Charts: Here's What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About... – from Business Insider
- "Occupy" photographs from around the nation – from the Denver Post
- Robert Frank. The Wild Ride of the 1% The Wall Street Journal. October 22, 2011
- "We Are The 99 Percent" music video.
- Camps Are Cleared, but ‘99 Percent’ Still Occupies the Lexicon November 30, 2011 New York Times
- 99online.us - Open public web site and resources for 99% activists
- "Wealth Gap" - A Guide (AP News - January, 2014).