Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Business

PolitiFact: Bernie Sanders cites outdated statistic in income inequality claim

The statement

"The top 1 percent in recent years has earned 85 percent of all new income."

Bernie Sanders, Monday, in a speech at the Democratic National Convention

The ruling

Sanders' wealth claim, a favorite line from his stump speech, is largely accurate. His claim about the uber wealthy hogging almost all of the new income, however, is out of date and exaggerated.

A month before he launched his presidential campaign, Sanders made a version of the claim in an April 2015 interview with Fox News: "99 percent of all new income today (is) going to the top 1 percent."

Back then, we rated the claim Mostly True, as Sanders' figure was credible but not the only way to consider income inequality. (Some economists prefer to also factor in unemployment compensation, welfare and health benefits, Social Security and retirement income.)

According to University of California at Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, the top 1 percent captured 91 percent of pretax, pretransfer income from 2009 to 2012.

For this fact-check, the Sanders campaign referred us to a study by the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute that concludes the top 1 percent got 85.1 percent of new income from 2009 to 2013.

The trouble for Sanders: A lot has happened since 2013. And as the economy has improved, the income disparity has lessened.

When Sanders made the same point at a Democratic debate in February, we found more recent data from Saez. By 2014, the top 1 percent's share of post-recession income dropped to a less egregious (albeit still disproportionate) 58 percent — a figure that Sanders seems aware of.

And last month, Saez updated his numbers again to include 2015 data, and the uber wealthy's share decreased slightly again to 52 percent.

"In 2014 and especially in 2015, the incomes of bottom 99 percent families have finally started recovering in earnest from the losses of the Great Recession," Saez writes, adding that the recovery now looks "much less lopsided" even as income inequality remains extremely high.

We rate his claim Half True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

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