We are the 99%

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

"We are the 99%" is a political slogan, Internet meme and implicit economic claim that emerged from the Occupy movement in 2011. Critics and observers have claimed that the slogan is a reference to discrepancies in income, wealth or political power between the elites and all the remaining citizens of the United States.[1] The phrase was picked up as a unifying slogan[2] by the Occupy movement.[3]



One attribution is to a tumblr blog[4] which via viral marketing became an Internet meme, showing a picture of a person holding a piece of paper with their story on it, ending with the phrase, "We are the 99%".[5]

Graph showing changes in real US incomes in top 1%, middle 60%, and bottom 20% from 1979 through 2007.[6]

Precedents for "the wealthiest 1%" and "the 99 percent"

In 1987, SMU economics Professor Ravi Batra reached #1 on the New York Times best seller list with a book linking a rise in "the share of wealth held by the richest 1 percent" to speculative manias and depressions.[7][8][9]

During the 2000 Presidential candidate debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Gore relentlessly[10] and memorably[11] accused his opponent of supporting the "wealthiest one percent" rather than the welfare of everyone else.[12]

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.[13]

Joseph Stiglitz, a 2001 Nobel laureate and Columbia University economics professor, wrote an article for Vanity Fair in May of 2011[14][15][16] entitled "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" and claimed that the wealthiest one percent of U.S. citizens control 40 percent of the American wealth.[17][18]

In 2011, Dan Rather reported[19] that independent media maven Priscilla Grim and her friend Chris launched the "we are the 99%" tumblr blog on September 8, that went viral.[20]

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.[21][22]
  • "We are the 53%" – In response to the slogan, conservative RedState.com blogger Erick Erickson (along with Josh Trevino, communications director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and filmmaker Mike Wilson[23]) launched a counter-slogan — "We are the 53%" — referring to what Erickson calls "... the half or so of Americans who pay income taxes".[24]

Economic context

A chart showing the disparity in income distribution in the United States.[25][26] Wealth inequality and income inequality have been central concerns among OWS protesters.[27][28][29] 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.[30]

"We are the 99%" is a political slogan and an implicit economic claim of "Occupy" protesters. It refers to the increased concentration of wealth since the 1970s among the top 1% of income earners in the United States. The Congressional Budget Office says that between 1979 and 2007 incomes of the top 1% of Americans grew by an average of 275%. During the same time period, the 60% of Americans in the middle of the income scale saw their income rise by 40%. 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, as federal taxation became 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%.[31] In 2009, the average income of the top 1% was $960,000 with a minimum income of $343,927.[32][33][34] 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[specify] 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%.[35] 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%. [36][37] 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.[25]

Following the Late-2000s recession, the economy in the United States continued to experience a jobless recovery. With market uncertainty due to fears of a double-dip recession[38] and the downgrade of the US credit rating in the summer of 2011, the topics of how much the rich pay in taxes[39] and how to solve the nation's economic crisis were predominant in media commentary.[40] 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,[41] President Obama,[42] and Republican Mitt Romney[43] over whether the Democrats were fomenting "class warfare".[44]

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."[45]


According to a 2011 article by CNBC writer Jeff Cox,[46] the 1% does not constitute merely corporate CEOs, bankers or stock traders, but also people in occupations not typically targeted by wealth disparity protestors. Based on a 2010 study covering data since 2005 (whose results, Cox concedes, would be affected by the 2000s recession), executives, managers and non-financial supervisors make up 6.35% of the 1%, while finance professionals make up 2.77%, doctors 1.85% and lawyers 1.22%. Other occupations such as farmers, scientists, pilots, real estate professionals and entertainers each comprise about 0.5% of the 1 Percenters. Cox states that sources vary on the minimum yearly income to be considered among the 1%, ranging from about $500,000 to $1.3 million, whereas CEO salaries average $3.9 million, $10.6 million for those whose companies are in the Standard & Poor’s 500 and $19.8 million for companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Cox adds that the wealthiest of the 1% (that is, the .001%), make only 19% of their income through their salaries, and make the rest through investment income, which are taxed at different rates, that they pay a disproportionate amount of their incomes to income tax, having paid 40% of the total federal personal income tax in 2006, whereas the 5 Percenters paid 60%.[46]

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 protestors' focus on income and wealth, and with their embrace of allies such as Susan Sarandon and Russell Simmons, who are themselves in the 1%.[46]

Joseph Barro of National Review offers similar arguments, asserting that the 1% includes those with incomes beginning at $593,000, which would include most Wall Street bankers.[47]

See also

Peace sign.svg Social movements portal


  1. ^ Zaid Jilani."5 Facts You Should Know About the Wealthiest One Percent of Americans". AlterNet, 10/4/2011.
  2. ^ Behind the Occupy Wall Street slogan 'We Are the 99%'
  3. ^ Outside of Wonkland, 'We are the 99%' Is a Pretty Good Slogan
  4. ^ Daniel Indiviglio. "Most Americans Aren't Occupy Wall Street's '99 Percent'". The Atlantic, 10/5/2011.
  5. ^ Harry Bradford. "'We Are The 99 Percent': Stories Of The Great Recession's Victims". Huffington Post, 10/3/11.
  6. ^ Kenworthy, L. (August 20, 2010) "The best inequality graph, updated" Consider the Evidence
  7. ^ "Best Sellers From 1987's Book Crop". New York Times. January 6, 1988. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/01/06/books/best-sellers-from-1987-s-book-crop.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm. Retrieved November 6, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Rising Up: A lost generation finds its place in North Texas protests — and in the fast-spreading Occupy movement". Fort Worth Weekly. Oct. 19, 2011. http://www.fwweekly.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5095:rising-up&catid=30:cover-story&Itemid=375. Retrieved November 6, 2011. 
  9. ^ Ravi Batra (October 11, 2011). "The Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Coming Demise of Crony Capitalism". Truthout. http://www.truth-out.org/occupy-wall-street-movement-and-coming-demise-crony-capitalism/1318341474. Retrieved November 6, 2011. 
  10. ^ Bruce Bartlett Responding to the One Percent Attack. Posted October 9, 2010. Accessed October 19, 2011. "In his debate with George W. Bush on Oct. 3, Al Gore relentlessly attacked Bush's tax plan as a giveaway to the rich" ... "accused Bush of providing tax cuts to the "wealthiest 1 percent."
  11. ^ Paul Sperry Al Gore, message machine Posted: October 06, 2000, Accessed October 19, 2011. "Quick, what's the one phrase you remember hearing during the debate? Probably the one you heard most. That's right, "tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent." Gore hit that point no less than five times in 90 minutes in order to sour voters on Bush's proposed tax cut" ... "Gore sprung his "wealthiest 1 percent" line about three times in just the first 10 minutes or so of the debate." ... "Yet, Bush and his advisers had to have known the barb was coming. Gore is a shameless class warrior brimming with anti-rich agitprop. Bush could have easily shot the "wealthiest 1 percent" salvo down every time Gore let it rip..."
  12. ^ Rick Pearson Gore Details Proposal To Strengthen Medicare Chicago Tribune Posted September 26, 2000, accessed October 19, 2011. "Consider this fact: [The Bush] budget plan spends more on a tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers than their budget invests in health care, prescription drugs, education and national defense all combined. I think those are the wrong priorities"
  13. ^ Phillips, Peter (2006). Censored 2007:The Top 25 Censored Stories. Seven Stories Press. p. 207. ISBN 1583227385. 
  14. ^ Columbia University roster of Nobel laureates by year, accessed October 20, 2011
  15. ^ the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%. Vanity Fair. May 2011. Accessed October 20, 2011
  16. ^ Swern, Bob. Joseph Stiglitz' Unpretentious Must-Read On Income Inequality: "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" Daily Kos. Published April 3, 2011, Accessed October 20, 2011
  17. ^ Irish in New York rally support for ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protesters
  18. ^ Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%
  19. ^ Dan Rather: Force Behind OWS ‘Is a Woman Operating Out of Her Apartment in New York’
  20. ^ Who’s behind the “We are the 99%” anti-Wall Street movement?
  21. ^ Melissa Bell. "Occupy Wall Street protests get support of the one percent". Washington Post, 10/13/2011.
  22. ^ Amanda Walgrove. "Occupy Tumblr: We Are the 153 Percent". The Faster Times, 10/13/2011.
  23. ^ 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
  24. ^ 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
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ “By the Numbers.” Demos.org. Accessed October 2011.
  27. ^ Alessi, Christopher (October). "Occupy Wall Street's Global Echo". Council on Foreign Relations. http://www.cfr.org/united-states/occupy-wall-streets-global-echo/p26216. 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."" 
  28. ^ Jones, Clarence (October 17, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street and the King Memorial Ceremonies". The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/clarence-b-jones/obama-mlk-memorial-_b_1016077.html. 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."" 
  29. ^ Chrystia Freeland (October 14, 2011). "Wall Street protesters need to find their 'sound bite'". The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/commentary/chrystia-freeland/wall-street-protesters-need-to-find-their-sound-bite/article2200223/. Retrieved October 17, 2011. 
  30. ^ Michael Hiltzik (October 12, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street shifts from protest to policy phase". Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/12/business/la-fi-hiltzik-20111012. Retrieved October 17, 2011. 
  31. ^ It's the Inequality, Stupid By Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot in Mother Jones, March/April 2011 Issue
  32. ^ Who are the 1 percent?, CNN, October 29, 2011
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ Top Earners Doubled Share of Nation’s Income, Study Finds New York Times By Robert Pear, October 25, 2011
  35. ^ Occupy Wall Street And The Rhetoric of Equality Forbes November 1, 2011 by Deborah L. Jacobs
  36. ^ 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
  37. ^ Wealth, Income, and Power by G. William Domhoff of the UC-Santa Barbara Sociology Department
  38. ^ Sponsored by. "America's jobless recovery: Not again". The Economist. http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/06/americas-jobless-recovery?page=1. Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  39. ^ "Does a secretary pay higher taxes than a millionaire?" PolitiFact. Accessed October 2011.
  40. ^ Global Stock Selloff: Is another financial crisis coming?
  41. ^ JIM KUHNHENN Obama Unveils Deficit Reduction Plan, 'Buffett Rule' Tax On Millionaires. Associated Press. September 19, 2011, accessed October 19, 2011.
  42. ^ ibid.
  43. ^ Boxer, Sarah B.. "Romney: Wall Street Protests ‘Class Warfare’ - Sarah B. Boxer". NationalJournal.com. http://www.nationaljournal.com/2012-presidential-campaign/romney-wall-street-protests-class-warfare--20111004. Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  44. ^ "Obama Unveils Deficit Reduction Plan, 'Buffett Rule' Tax On Millionaires". Huffingtonpost.com. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/19/obama-deficit-plan-buffet-rule-taxes-medicare_n_969403.html. Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  45. ^ Anne-Marie Slaughter. "Occupied Wall Street, Seen From Abroad". The New York Times, 10/6/2011.
  46. ^ a b c Cox, Jeff. "Protests Target 'One Percent,' But Who Exactly Are They?". CNBC. October 19, 2011.
  47. ^ Josh Barro. "We Are the 99 Percent—Even Rich People". National Review Online, October 5, 2011.

Further reading

External links

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