Saturday, December 21, 2013

95 % of economic gains go to the wealthiest 1% of Americans

How many Americans are left out in the cold this holiday season?
Christmas is near, and I'm looking forward to having family over for dinner. I've got all the necessities on hand for our traditional holiday meal, my decorations are in place, and gifts for my guests are wrapped and under the tree.

In the meantime, I'm anticipating going to the theater this afternoon with a friend.

However, the joy of the season has been dampened for me by this op-ed by Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley: The meaning of a Decent Society. Reich reminds us that our nation is not living up to its pretensions of equality for all:

It's the season to show concern for the less fortunate among us. We should also be concerned about the widening gap between the most fortunate and everyone else.

Although it's still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $636 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family we're born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.
That's not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches -- with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone -- was once at the core of the American Dream.

And equal opportunity was the heart of the American creed. Although imperfectly achieved, that ideal eventually propelled us to overcome legalized segregation by race, and to guarantee civil rights. It fueled efforts to improve all our schools and widen access to higher education. It pushed the nation to help the unemployed, raise the minimum wage, and provide pathways to good jobs. Much of this was financed by taxes on the most fortunate.

But for more than three decades we've been going backwards. It's far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.

The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that it's been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.

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