Forbes 400: Rich get richer while the poor get to watch and wish

Oracle and Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA catamaran trains for the America’s Cup sailing event in San Francisco Bay. In the background is Ellison’s yacht.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

News flash: America’s rich are getting richer; America’s poor are getting, well, you know.

And in other news, the sky is blue and the sun will set tonight in the West.

OK, so you probably had guessed that gazillionaires such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison were doing, well, better than most in this “sluggish” economy. But on Monday, Forbes magazine made it (more or less) official; it released its list of the richest 400 Americans. (Side note: Wonder why they stop at 400?) As my colleague Ricardo Lopez wrote:

Five years after the financial crisis, the mega-rich have regained all the wealth they lost during the recession, setting a new record value for combined net worth….


The annual report showed that America’s wealthiest have a combined net worth of $2.02 rillion, the highest value ever recorded by Forbes. That’s up from $1.7 trillion a year ago.

Now, nothing against Forbes, but if you want a truly in-depth look at the changes that have produced today’s economic winners and losers in the United States, you must read Tom Petruno’s excellent analysis in Sunday’s Times, “5 years after financial crash, many losers -- and some big winners.”

Warning: You’ll actually have to, uh, read for a while. So, for those with short attention spans, I’ll give you the Twitter version: “The gulf between the post-crisis haves and have-nots isn’t likely to narrow significantly soon.”

What’s interesting to me, though, is the flip-side of this equation, as reported Sunday by The Times’ Emily Alpert: “Amid slow economic recovery, more Americans identify as ‘lower class.’”


As she wrote:

Chris Roquemore once thought of himself as working class. But it’s hard to keep thinking that, he said, when you’re not working.

The 28-year-old father said he sparred with his supervisors at a retail chain about taking time off after his mother died -- and ended up unemployed. Since then, Roquemore has worked odd jobs and started studying nursing at Long Beach City College, trying to get “a career, not a job.” All those changes, in turn, changed the way he thought of himself.

Roquemore is among the small but surging share of Americans who identify themselves as “lower class.” Last year, a record 8.4% of Americans put themselves in that category -- more than at any other time in the four decades that the question has been asked on the General Social Survey, a project of the independent research organization Norc at the University of Chicago.

And here I thought it was just me feeling blue because it was Monday.

Apparently, despite howls from conservatives and the Republican Party, President Obama hasn’t been that successful in his efforts to turn America into a socialist Utopia. Remember the old “spread the wealth” tape of Obama that Fox News ran on a 24/7 loop? To borrow a Sarah Palinism, “How’s that workin’ out for ya, poor folks?”

Because things are working out pretty well for rich folks such as Palin.

Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, we all have to be concerned about a society with such a yawning economic divide. Some, like Rebecca Solnit, who wrote about the Occupy movement in Sunday’s Opinion section, believe grass-roots activism can make a difference.


Even former political rivals such as Sens. Bob Dole and Tom Daschle acknowledge that today’s political climate has become too partisan, too slanted against the poor, as they argued in their Monday Op-Ed,  “Stop playing politics with hunger.”

And California’s Legislature has taken a small step to help, voting to raise the state’s minimum wage.

That may help some of those Wal-Mart workers out there, but they’re still going to be “lower class” in this economy.

And speaking of Wal-Mart, take a look at the Forbes list, and note this little tidbit:

Four of the top 10 spots were held by the Walton family, which include Christy Walton, the richest woman in the world. She inherited her wealth when her husband, John Walton, son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, died in a 2005 plane crash.

That’s the American way to make money: Inherit it!

Now, I’m not saying these folks have to spread the wealth around. But sometimes, if people aren’t willing to change, well, the world -- like France in the 1790s and Russia in 1917 -- has a way of changing things for them.

Let them eat cake, indeed.



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Follow Paul Whitefield on Twitter @PaulWhitefield1 and Google +

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