In “Parasite,” the South Korean thriller that took home four Oscars Sunday night, including the award for best picture, the tension between rich and poor is on full display, juxtaposing the luxury and abundance of the haves with the hardship and squalor of the have-nots.
It’s a theme that translates well to the U.S. — and which may well decide the trajectory of the 2020 presidential election. America’s wealth divide — a measure of the country’s wealth held by the most affluent compared with the rest of the population — has grown substantially over the past few decades. While the top echelon has recovered since the 2008 financial crisis, the middle class hasn’t enjoyed that same fortune, according to researchers at the Brookings Institution.
Income inequality in the U.S. is higher than in other advanced economies, according to the Pew Research Center. This is all despite a stock market that’s been on its longest winning streak in history and a labor market that’s seen more job creation than any in the post-World War II era. “I think ‘Parasite’ as a theme is really resonant in our elections and our economy,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group.
“There’s always been a divide, but it hasn’t always been an abyss,” Court said. “It hasn’t always been the Mariana Trench. It’s never been this bad.” The share of total U.S. income, such as wages, among the wealthy has grown markedly in the past three decades.
The top 10% of Americans made half the country’s pre-tax household income in 2016, up from 42% in 1989, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That means the rest of the country lost an equivalent share.