Animation: The Collapse of the Middle Class in 20 Major U.S. Cities
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Animation: The Collapse of the Middle Class in 20 Major U.S. Cities

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When future historians look back at the beginning of the 21st century, they’ll note that we grappled with many big issues.

They’ll write about the battle between nationalism and globalism, soaring global debt, a dysfunctional healthcare system, societal concerns around automation and AI, and pushback on immigration. They will also note the growing number of populist leaders in Western democracies, ranging from Marine Le Pen to Donald Trump.

However, these historians will not view these ideas and events in isolation. Instead, they will link them all, at least partially, to an overarching trend that is intimately connected to today’s biggest problems: the “hollowing out” of the middle class.

Visualizing the Collapse of the Middle Class

The fact is many people have less money in their pockets – and understandably, this has motivated people to take action against the status quo.

And while the collapse of the middle class and income inequality are issues that receive a fair share of discussion, we thought that this particular animation from Metrocosm helped to put things in perspective.

The following animation shows the change in income distribution in 20 major U.S. cities between 1970 and 2015:

Animation: The Collapse of the Middle Class in 20 Major U.S. Cities

The differences between 1970 and 2015 are intense. At first, each distribution is more bell-shaped, with the majority of people in a middle income bracket – and by 2015, those people are “pushed” out towards the extremes as they either get richer or poorer.

A Broader Look at Income Inequality

This phenomenon is not limited to major cities, either.

Here’s another look at the change in income distribution using smaller brackets and the whole U.S. adult population:

Income distribution

Courtesy of: FT (h/t Metrocosm)

It’s a multi-faceted challenge, because while a significant portion of middle class households are being shifted into lower income territory, there are also many households that are doing the opposite. According to Pew Research, the percentage of households in the upper income bracket has grown from 14% to 21% between 1971 and 2015.

The end result? With people being pushed to both ends of the spectrum, the middle class has decreased considerably in size. In 1971, the middle class made up 61% of the adult population, and by 2014 it accounted for less than 50%.

As this “core” of society shrinks, it aggravates the aforementioned problems. People and governments borrow more money to make up for a lack of middle class wealth, while backlashes against globalism, free trade, and open borders are fueled. The populists who can “fix” the broken system are elected, and so on.

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All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization (2022)

From the wealth held to billionaires to all debt in the global financial system, we look at the vast universe of money and markets in 2022.

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All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization

The era of easy money is now officially over.

For 15 years, policymakers have tried to stimulate the global economy through money creation, zero interest-rate policies, and more recently, aggressive COVID fiscal stimulus.

With capital at near-zero costs over this stretch, investors started to place more value on cash flows in the distant future. Assets inflated and balance sheets expanded, and money inevitably chased more speculative assets like NFTs, crypto, or unproven venture-backed startups.

But the free money party has since ended, after persistent inflation prompted the sudden reversal of many of these policies. And as Warren Buffett says, it’s only when the tide goes out do you get to see “who’s been swimming naked.”

Measuring Money and Markets in 2022

Every time we publish this visualization, our common unit of measurement is a two-dimensional box with a value of $100 billion.

Even though you need many of these to convey the assets on the balance sheet of the U.S. Federal Reserve, or the private wealth held by the world’s billionaires, it’s quite amazing to think what actually fits within this tiny building block of measurement:

What fits in a $100 billion box?

Our little unit of measurement is enough to pay for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, while also buying every team in the NHL and digging FTX out of its financial hole several times over.

Here’s an overview of all the items we have listed in this year’s visualization:

Asset categoryValueSourceNotes
SBF (Peak Net Worth)$26 billionBloombergNow sits at <$1B
Pro Sports Teams$340 billionForbesMajor pro teams in North America
Cryptocurrency$760 billionCoinMarketCapPeaked at $2.8T in 2021
Ukraine GDP$130 billionWorld BankComparable to GDP of Mississippi
Russia GDP$1.8 trillionWorld BankThe world's 11th largest economy
Annual Military Spending$2.1 trillionSIPRI2021 data
Physical currency$8.0 trillionBIS2020 data
Gold$11.5 trillionWorld Gold CouncilThere are 205,238 tonnes of gold in existence
Billionaires$12.7 trillionForbesSum of fortunes of all 2,668 billionaires
Central Bank Assets$28.0 trillionTrading EconomicsFed, BoJ, Bank of China, and Eurozone only
S&P 500$36.0 trillionSlickchartsNov 20, 2022
China GDP$17.7 trillionWorld Bank
U.S. GDP$23.0 trillionWorld Bank
Narrow Money Supply$49.0 trillionTrading EconomicsIncludes US, China, Euro Area, Japan only
Broad Money Supply $82.7 trillionTrading EconomicsIncludes US, China, Euro Area, Japan only
Global Equities$95.9 trillionWFELatest available 2022 data
Global Debt$300.1 trillionIIFQ2 2022
Global Real Estate$326.5 trillionSavills2020 data
Global Private Wealth$463.6 trillionCredit Suisse2022 report
Derivatives (Market)$12.4 trillionBIS
Derivatives (Notional)$600 trillionBIS

Has the Dust Settled Yet?

Through previous editions of our All the World’s Money and Markets visualization, we’ve created snapshots of the world’s assets and markets at different points in time.

For example, in our 2017 edition of this visualization, Apple’s market capitalization was only $807 billion, and all crypto assets combined for $173 billion. The global debt total was at $215 trillion.

Asset2017 edition2022 editionChange (%)
Apple market cap$807 billion$2.3 trillion+185%
Crypto$173 billion$760 billion+339%
Fed Balance Sheet$4.5 trillion$8.7 trillion+93%
Stock Markets$73 trillion$95.9 trillion+31%
Global Debt$215 trillion$300 trillion+40%

And in just five years, Apple nearly quadrupled in size (it peaked at $3 trillion in January 2022), and crypto also expanded into a multi-trillion dollar market until it was brought back to Earth through the 2022 crash and subsequent FTX implosion.

Meanwhile, global debt continues to accumulate—growing by $85 trillion in the five-year period.

With interest rates expected to continue to rise, companies making cost cuts, and policymakers reining in spending and borrowing, today is another unique snapshot in time.

Now that the easy money era is over, where do things go from here?

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Charted: Income Distributions in 16 Different Countries

This graphic shows income distributions in 16 different countries around the world, using data from the World Inequality Database.

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charting income distributions in select countries

Charting Income Distributions in 16 Different Countries

Throughout the 19th century, roughly 80% of the global population lived in what we’d now consider extreme poverty.

And as earnings and living conditions have improved dramatically since then, they haven’t done so evenly across the world. There are still vast income gaps, both between different countries and within them.

To highlight these global income discrepancies, this chart by Ruben Berge Mathisen shows income distributions around the world, using 2021 income data from the World Inequality Database (WID) on a per adult basis.

Global Income Distributions

This graphic shows the adult income distributions of 16 different countries in U.S. dollars, along with the world average.

On a global scale, adults making an annual income greater than $124,720 make it into the 99th percentile, meaning they make more than 99% of the worldwide population.

However, things change when you zoom in on specific countries. Here’s a look at all the countries on the list, and how much annual income is needed (at minimum) to be in the top 1%:

RegionCountryAdult income (2021, 99th percentile)
North America🇺🇸 United States$336,953.19
North America🇨🇦 Canada$193,035.55
North America🇲🇽 Mexico$130,388.19
South America🇧🇷 Brazil$115,257.86
South America🇨🇴 Colombia$97,500.37
South America🇦🇷 Argentina$94,794.89
Asia🇨🇳 China$99,095.34
Asia🇮🇳 India$65,370.51
Asia🇮🇩 Indonesia$85,176.35
Europe🇷🇺 Russia$124,805.86
Europe🇩🇪 Germany$212,106.53
Europe🇬🇧 United Kingdom$162,547.56
Africa🇳🇬 Nigeria$53,144.36
Africa🇪🇹 Ethiopia$24,295.66
Africa🇪🇬 Egypt$115,546.44
Oceania🇦🇺 Australia$164,773.40
🌎 World$124,719.60

People in America’s top 1% make at least $336,953 in annual pre-tax income. That’s more than $100,000 above the 1% of next closest countries, Germany ($212,107) and Canada ($193,036).

On the flip side, adults in Ethiopia only need to make $24,297 to fall into the country’s 99th percentile. Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world—according to estimates by the World Bank, about 27% of Ethiopia’s population is thought to be currently living under the poverty line.

Income Gaps Within Countries

It is also noticeable how much income varies within each country.

One example is Colombia, which has one of the largest wealth gaps of any country on the list. The 99th percentile in Colombia is making an annual income that’s 192x higher than its 10th percentile. In contrast, an income in the 99th percentile in the United States is 83x higher than the 10th percentile.

Colombia’s high level of income inequality stems from early childhood disadvantages, such as lack of access to education, which can limit opportunities later on in life.

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