The subheadline of Nina Easton‘s new Fortune magazine cover story asks, “Instead of taking them [the rich] down, shouldn’t we figure out how to lift everyone up?”

Most of the 1.4 million taxpayers who make up the top 1% gained their wealth through their own efforts rather than by inheritance. This group consists of a large number of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and small-time entrepreneurs, many of whom are working hard to create jobs. To vilify them is the wrong debate. It’s a conversation that tends to cast blame on people who have made it to the top or anywhere near it, since Obama’s tax proposal labels as “wealthy” households making more than $250,000 a year — a comfortable income in Indianapolis (where the median home price is $102,000) but barely enough to afford a studio apartment in Manhattan, where tax rates easily hit 50%.

It’s also a conversation that misses the point. Stirring resentment and pitting Americans against one another distracts from the harder and far more important conversation: how to jump-start the escalator for 23 million unemployed and underemployed — and for those whose incomes were stagnating well before the 2008 recession. Diatribes against the 1% are provocative and entertaining, but they don’t offer a path to prosperity for those left behind in the global economy. If Americans really understood who the 1% are, they would be more likely to stop the name-calling and shift the debate to the dire task at hand — getting millions back to work.