Squeezed middle? The 1%? Who are they?

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Occupy Wall StreetAFP/Getty Images

"We are the 99%" was the rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which pitched its tents in the heart of Manhattan in September but has since been unceremoniously evicted. (They returned for a Thanksgiving feast last week.) So who are the 1%?

And while we're at it, who are the mysterious squeezed middle so often evoked by Labour leader Ed Miliband? The squeezed middle has just become the Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year (even though it's a phrase).

The 1%
The Occupy Wall Street protesters said they represented the 99% of Americans who were not bailed out by the government.

Citing figures from a new Congressional Budget Office report, Richard Wolff, emeritus professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, said: "Over the last quarter century (1979 to 2007, to be exact), the top 1% of income earners enjoyed far, far bigger real income gains than the other 99%."

According to other estimates, 99% of Americans hold two-thirds of the country's wealth - while the remaining 1% has just a third.

Number crunchers at the Guardian have worked out that the super-rich - the top 0.01% of the population - now own more of America's wealth than at any time since just before the Great Depression.

This side of the pond, the richest 1% pocket 14% of all income in the UK, according to the London School of Economics' Centre for Economic Performance.

Contrary to what most people believe, they're not all bankers - they also include landowners and some rich family businesses. For some reason, the latter never attract nearly as much criticism as bankers like Bob Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays, who got a £6.5 million bonus last year.

Let's look at the squeezed middle. The term has become a buzzword thanks to Miliband's (over)use, but has been around far longer. Bill Clinton, for example, talked about "hard-pressed working families, squeezed in the middle". Going back further, the phrase "this squeezed middle white class" appeared in the 1928 book Dark Princess: A Romance by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois.

The term is conveniently vague, which means a lot of people might identify with it - anyone on an average income who has seen their living standards eroded by high inflation, pay cuts or freezes and the increase in VAT. When asked to define the squeezed middle, Miliband said it refers to people who are not on benefits, but are "working hard" and are "not on six-figure salaries".

What is your favourite word or phrase of the year?

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