When inequality hits the highest levels: What it means for you and your family

WASHINGTON — A new study from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the wealth gap between the richest and poorest Americans is widening in the wake of a recession that has left the country with one of the highest rates of inequality in the industrialized world.

In its report, titled The Wealth Inequality of America, the bureau analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2007 through 2012 and compared it with the wealth of families in the same income bracket that were born between 1929 and 1989.

The study found that between the first and fourth decades of the 20th century, the wealth divide between the top 20 percent of households and the bottom 20 percent grew from roughly 10 percent to nearly 30 percent.

That widening wealth gap was even more pronounced among the poorest 10 percent of American families in those years.

The report found that in the fourth quarter of 2012, the top 10 percent had seen their wealth grow by over $1 trillion while the bottom 40 percent of families had lost $5 trillion, while the top 1 percent of U.s. households had lost nearly $7 trillion.

The bureau said the widening wealth disparity between the poorest and richest Americans could have important implications for how we pay for the nation’s social programs, such as social security, Medicaid and food stamps.

The rise in inequality in this country is partly due to the economic crisis, which is blamed for the decline in real median household income since 2009, the census data show.

The Census Bureau says the recession has put downward pressure on the incomes of some families and that this has created the opportunity for some families to lose wealth, as well as their ability to pay taxes and receive benefits.