9.9 Percent cover

Jingle, jingle, jangle.

That's the sound of Almost Payday: a little coin in your pocket, just waiting for some folding paper to join it. Judging by that jingle alone, the rich get richer and the poor, well, you know. You also know where you are on the spectrum and it ain't in the One Percent, but that's really not who you should watch anyhow. In the new book, "The 9.9 Percent" by Michael Stewart, another income group matters more.

It's not fair.

You have to work for a living, while some people in the world play with spaceships and buy mansions and fun cars. You buy used, because it fits your budget. They have a personal staff, you DIY. "It's not fair," you rant as you point your finger at a much-hyped One Percent, but you're blaming the wrong group.

Says Stewart, the main holders of most of America's wealth are an elite, mostly-white, often white-collar 9.9 percent of the nation's total population. With assets of just slightly over a mere million bucks, the 9.9 Percenters are not individually as moneyed as are the One Percenters, but they hold more sway, by far.

The kind of wealth that 9.9 Percenters have allows them to take parenting to higher levels, with super-highly-educated nannies, super-overscheduled kids, and funds to one-hundred-percent ensure that any future college is an Ivy League one. That wealth allows 9.9 Percenters not to "see" certain kinds of people. The 9.9 Percenters own their own homes, and often the homes of others, too. They always marry "right," preferably up, but inequality in marriage happens often enough to be notable. And as you might expect, 9.9 Percenters don't always notice when there's an extra zero at the end of something they want.

And yet, despite the undeniable perks, says Stewart, even 9.9 Percenters have to know that this decades-long society-affecting imbalance is unsustainable. Change takes sacrifice; it starts with disassembling several kinds of inequality, and a little thing called taxes...

This may all sound like so much preaching to the choir. And in a way, it is; author Michael Stewart isn't really saying much here that hasn't been muttered colloquially for two Presidential administrations or more. Nope, but it's the way he says it: relevant, illustrative stories and wry cynicism, complete with alarming statistics make up "The 9.9 Percent."

Indeed, readers are almost overwhelmed with stats that frame the issues that Stewart lays out: numbers on housing, education, gender, race, it's all quite eye-opening. And if those things don't ruffle your feathers, he points out that this chasm between have and have-not isn't as wide as it seems, and that the income disparity wasn't so disparate just a few decades ago.

And then there are the solutions he discusses. Will the 9.9 Percenters go along with them?

Readers will have their opinions by the end of this fascinating, shocking-not-shocking book, and those conclusions may go along (surprise!) party lines. Check it out for yourself, though: these days, absolutely, reading "The 9.9 Percent" just makes cents.

"The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That Is Entrenching Inequality and Warping Our Culture" by Michael Stewart, c.2021, Simon & Schuster, $28.00 / $37.00 Canada, 352 pages

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