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Published: Tuesday, 10/3/2006

Boom and bust

IT WAS only a matter of time before the 400 richest Americans listed in Forbes magazine all counted their wealth in the billions, not millions. The burgeoning aristocracy in the United States has been widening the gargantuan gulf between the filthy rich and everybody else for years.

But the sharp rise in fortunes of groups, like the Forbes billionaires, in contrast to the rest of America struggling to get by on comparatively paltry paychecks and pensions, is striking. To many it also borders on the morally reprehensible.

While Forbes exalts in its billionaires-only club ranking the richest people in the country and noting industrious magnates on the move, other rankings reveal a different trend. They suggest that for millions of Americans prosperity and financial security is a pipe dream.

The creed about a rising tide lifting all boats no longer seems to apply. Not only are ordinary folk not benefiting economically from the profitable rich, they're losing ground.

For years their wages and salaries haven't kept up with the cost of living. A record 47 million Americans have no health insurance and some 37 million live below the poverty line.

While Forbes gains billionaires, the middle class loses more household income adjusted for inflation. And the household savings rate has fallen to about zero.

Minimum wage remains miserly while corporate America rakes in profits buoyed by generous tax cuts. Increasingly, the country's income and wealth is concentrated among the very few at the very top who enjoy every government policy advantage.

As one writer concludes, "The number of billionaires is a record high, but the share of national income going to wages and salaries is at a record low." There is no trickle down reward for those who plod along, working hard, and playing by the rules.

So it's understandable that those grappling with economic inequities may well regard the booming billionaires phenomenon with more disdain than admiration.

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