Wealth remains highly stratified. For example, the wealthiest 10% of Americans had 2.4 cars per “consumer unit” (essentially a household or an individual living on his or her own) in 2002, the most recent year in the Census study. That’s down slightly from 1992, when they had 2.5 cars per household. The bottom 10% of the income ladder averaged just 0.6 cars per household in 2002, the same as 1992.
Still, by almost all measures, the data show rising well-being for all of society. And while the wealth gap may not be narrowing, the rich-poor gap in lifestyles has narrowed substantially since 1992 when measured in many of these tangible items.
“In terms of the items people have … it amazes me the number of people who are at or near the poverty line that have color TVs, cable, washer, dryer, microwave,” says Michael Cosgrove, an economist at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas. That’s not to ignore the hardships of poverty, he adds, “but the conveniences they have are in fact pretty good.”
While consumer electronics have dropped drastically in price, housing has gone up in price. People can afford the luxuries but not the necessities.