In Perspective: Tricia Rose on America’s growing inequality

The debt ceiling gridlock and the limited range of solutions being considered in Washington to solve our economic crisis are likely to worsen the enormous gaps in wealth, income and opportunity that already exist. While the politicians argue, we are careening toward establishing a society in which the lion’s share of money and opportunity is permanently consolidated at the very top. This goes well beyond balancing a budget: it goes to the heart of who we are and who we are going to be.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, between 1980 and 2007, average household income for the bottom 80 percent has remained relatively constant, while the top 20 percent has doubled, and the top 1 percent has nearly quadrupled.

And just this week, a Pew Research Center study – based on U.S. Census data – revealed that, while the current recession has hit middle and working class people hard, it has hit minority communities hardest of all. While median wealth in white households has dropped 16 percent, it has dropped 53 percent in African-American households, 54 percent in Asian households, and 66 percent in Hispanic households.

The study reveals that white wealth now stands at 20 times that of black wealth and 18 times that of Hispanic wealth.

A different study on wealth gaps released last year described wealth as “what you own minus what you owe” which “allows people to start a business, buy a home, send children to college, and ensure an economically secure retirement.” Researchers warn that “without wealth, families and communities cannot become and remain economically secure.” And fewer people are feeling secure these days.

Stay with me here. With the top 20 percent owning 80 percent of the wealth, that would leave the remaining 80 percent to “share” the remaining 20 percent of the wealth. Put more bluntly, if wealth can be described as the thing that buys homes and gets our kids to college, nearly half of the American people are unable to do either as they have virtually no wealth at all.

While our cultural narratives often blame lazy workers and greedy unions, the fact is that the playing field has been rigged for a powerful few. Things like a 40 percent tax cut for those earning a million dollars or more since the 1960s and a 50 percent reduction in corporate taxes over the past 30 years have driven more resources to the very top.

Policies like that have brought our nation to a profound fork in the road. In the past, at our best we’ve relied on our democratic principles to confront systemic injustices. So what will we do now?  Are we going to continue to crush the middle class and expand the poor or are we going to invest in the future for all?

 

Comments

  • FlaKen

    The solution here is counter intuitive.  We need to give less economic assistance, though more training and education, thus forcing the use of this training and education.  Programs like the earned income credit and other monetary assistance reduces the need for self motivation, and should be eliminated.  Additional training in areas like household economics (how to handle money smarter), health (yes, drinking and smoking are not only not healthy, but also expensive), and parenting (how much more prevalent is poverty in single parent households vs two parent households; the importance of teaching the meaning of “no”, plus the importance of the consistant application within the househhold).  I no this will not be a popular opionion on this site, but I wanted to share it as just one idea.

  • CTMark

    FlaKen, to say that “the solution here is counter intuitive” is like saying “the tooth fairy is counter intuitive.”  No. It’s not.  It’s just a fairy tale.  You see, sometimes the reason an argument sounds counter intuitive is simply because it doesn’t actually make any sense.  Training people how to handle money??  Teaching the meaning of “no”??  Are you trying to be condescending?

    But perhaps I am most offended by the sentiment expressed by your suggestion “I no (sic) this will not be a popular opinion on this site…”  In these few words you have said, “I know you won’t agree with me, but that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that you are a denizen of this site and therefore inherently biased and less clear-thinking.”

    Your gift for offense is rather impressive indeed.

  • Dee

    You don’t address the facts laid out in the article. If 80% of the population can only have access to 20% of the wealth, no amount of training is going to change each household’s relative share. It’s the policies that structure the distribution of wealth that need to be reworked, IN ORDER THAT your social policy recommendations like training, etc, could even make a difference. 

    Simpler: If greedy Susie takes 80% of the cake, all the other kids at the party can only have a sliver each. No matter how well-behaved they are, there just isn’t enough to go around. 

  • Thomas Atwood

    Misleading statistics => borderline racism.  Does the hillbilly white trailer trash get lumped together with the white Wall Street CEO just because both of them are white?  How about making it clear that the top 20% happen to be predominantly white, which skews the statistics for the entire ethnic group.  I would venture to guess that there are as many white people living in poverty as there are blacks, hispanics and asians combined.

  • Thomas Atwood

    Misleading statistics => borderline racism.  Does the hillbilly white trailer trash get lumped together with the white Wall Street CEO just because both of them are white?  How about making it clear that the top 20% happen to be predominantly white, which skews the statistics for the entire ethnic group.  I would venture to guess that there are as many white people living in poverty as there are blacks, hispanics and asians combined.

  • Thomas Atwood

    More importantly, where are the 80% on election day when they should be voting for the candidate who supports equitable redistribution of wealth.

  • Thomas Atwood

    More importantly, where are the 80% on election day when they should be voting for the candidate who supports equitable redistribution of wealth.

  • Thomas Atwood

    Oh, wait a minute, the candidate who is in favor of higher taxes for the wealthy is also the same elected official who gave each and every public employee that nice taxpayer funded $50,000 per year for LIFE defined benefit retirement plan.  And that infuriates the bottom 80% even more. 

    Now it’s clear.

  • Mabelbets

    What planet do you live on?

  • Thomas Atwood

    Earth.

    Using data collected from a couple reliable sources
    [Wikipedia, Infoplease], the number of people, by race, living in poverty in
    the United States:

    8.6% of all Whites (est. 240,000,000) = 20,000,000
    11.8% of all Asian Americans (est. 13,000,000) = 1,500,000
    23.2% of all Hispanics (of any nationality) (est. 45,000,000) = 10,000,000
    24.2% of all American Indians and Alaska Natives (est. 3,000,000) = 750,000
    24.7% of all African Americans (est. 40,000,000) = 10,000,000

     

    Many Hispanics fall into either category of “white” or “other”,
    so we will divide them in half.  Therefore,
    approximately 25 million whites live in poverty and approximately 18 million of all other ethnic groups combined live in poverty.

  • MarkusMalek

    I agree that the information about race clouds the more important point: “So what will we do now?  Are we going to continue to crush the middle
    class and expand the poor or are we going to invest in the future for
    all?”.

  • Arodlav

    Please people. Goggle “When The Rich Get Richer” by James L. Payne before deciding that the rich are greedy or the poor are lazy.  You’ll find it on line. Its a timeless article and gives a great perspective. The 1%, the 80% and the other 19% are always changing.

  • Arodlav

    Please people. Goggle “When The Rich Get Richer” by James L. Payne before deciding that the rich are greedy or the poor are lazy.  You’ll find it on line. Its a timeless article and gives a great perspective. The 1%, the 80% and the other 19% are always changing.

  • BLue

    Oh Look!  Fox News is just starting…you better roll….

  • BLue

    A research based approach: educated= likely to not live in poverty.  Hope that doesn’t offend you.

  • Thomas Atwood

    Say what?  Perhaps you would like a spot of tea.  Do you prefer yours black, or with cream and sugar?

  • Thomas Atwood

    Mr. Payne was a bit naive in his youth, don’t you think?  I’m sure he would say that this article he wrote 27 years ago needs a little updating.

  • Chauncey Spears

    “…[A]t our best we’ve relied on our democratic principles to confront systemic injustices.”
     
    Perhaps the best quote of the whole essay. Dr. Rose hits the nail on the head. Disproportionate inequality is a systemic problem, with systemic causes, and thus need systemic solutions. Thinking like the type displayed by FlaKen and Thomas Atwood on here shows that people totally misunderstand the nature of inequality in this country. Disproprotionalities like we see aren’t merely the result of poor money management and discipline on behalf of the poor and minority citizens, it starts in the mal-distribution of human capital (economic, educational, and residential resources) embedded in an unjust and inhumane market based political economy, that is as much white supremacists and patriarchal as it is classist. Simply put, you can’t rig the game in your favor then blame the people who lose because of your rigging. Our democratic principles would see every person as worth of respect, dignity, and real opportunity.

  • Thomas Atwood

    I resent that you have attributed remarks made by FlaKen and Arodlav (citing James L. Payne) to me.  If you had been paying attention, Mr. Spears, I was the first to point out that Payne’s view was naive and simplistic.  And my reason is exactly as you eloquently stated — “you can’t rig the game in your favor them blame the people who lose because of your rigging.”

    I have stated nothing but the truth in this comment section.  Dr. Rose quoted a Pew study that was conspicuously racist and I took exception to it.  I supported my contention with irrefutable statistics.

    If you do not agree with me, then offer a credible opposing viewpoint.  But do not lump me in with the likes of FlaKen and Arodlav.  To do so would be prejudicial.  Perhaps this is the core of the ‘systemic’ problem — people like yourself and Dr. Rose who use racism and prejudice to substantiate your beliefs and refute others. 

  • Chauncey spears

    Thomas Atwood,
     
    The one with the stats that disproves his premise. I was mainly responding to your assertion that since there were more white poor than all other minority poor combined, in pure numbers, any research into the disproportionate poverty in minority communities was flawed. The very numbers you cite, percentage wise, prove my point.
     
     Any community that exists with as many as 1/4th of the population in poverty is under systemic injustice, not mere happenstance. I am not asserting that there are no whites who are poor or to ignore poverty in the white community, but that the issue here is DISPROPORTIONATE poverty in minority communities. It is the disproporionality that derives itself from systemic causes.
     
    The PEW research is not racist merely because it points out the gap in wealth among different races of people. I see your perspective is influenced by the notion that merely citing racial inequality is akin to creating racial inequality, a spurious notion to say the least.
     
    Mr. Atwood, it is not enough to merely ignore racism in order to remedy it. One must acknowledge, advocate, and act against it in order to defeat it.  You have presented nothing in your posts nor reply to me that suggests solutions. It seems you strain to argue a point that disproportionate poverty among minority groups is not a problem. The only problem, in your responses, seems to be in pointing out the inequalities. This is hardly a problem, because these inequalities exist, whether they are acknowledged or not, and they definitely will remain without direct action for justice and equality.

  • Thomas Atwood

    Ah, DISPROPORTION! Now I see your point.  In your previous post, you mentioned my name and FlaKen’s in the same condescending “people don’t understand” sentence.  Then you followed with your ‘rigged system’ point which came off as directed towards me.  You added in a sprinkling of ‘patriarchal white supremacy’ and somehow, the concept of DISPROPORTION got lost in the shuffle.

    Disproportion is an effect, not a cause.  Inequality has always existed in one form or another.  In the past fifty years (with emphasis on the number 50), the United States has instituted programs intended to stamp out racial inequality.  At some point, racial inequality can no longer be used as a scapegoat.  Dr. Rose clearly implied that the inequalities of today have more to do with class, not race.  If you insist on using race as a scapegoat, your woe is me assertions will surely fall on deaf ears.  It is time to fish or cut bait.

    History has shown countless poor immigrants leaving their homelands in search of a better life.  Those willing to distance themselves from the poverty and despair will fare better than those who expect the promised land to be hand delivered to their doorstep by the federal government.  A majority of Americans see the government as the problem, not the solution.  The system is broken and no amount of money can fix it.  So why give the government anything?

    “Any community that exists with as many as 1/4th of the population in poverty is under systemic injustice, not mere happenstance.”

    What is the basis for this assumption? You use the term ‘systemic’ several times — systemic injustice, systemic problem, systemic causes.  I looked it up but cannot find any satisfactory definition.  Care to elaborate?  Perhaps once these systemic causes are identified, we can find a solution.  As if there is a solution to poverty.  Perhaps we should try to tackle something easier, like world peace.  

    And by the way, I did offer one solution — the majority (80%) of Americans who are not part of the wealth class need to get educated and get to the polls and vote for the candidate who will work in our best interest.  Right now, a majority of Americans seem to support the Anti-government Tea Party candidates.  If there was a liberal version of the Tea Party, that would be a big step in the right direction.  It does not help when Dr. rose dismisses the problem of government employee labor unions, when indeed they are a big problem.  Equally as big a problem as the wealthy not paying their fair share. 

  • Chaunceyspears

    Mr. Atwood,  
     
    I see you haven’t responded to the general premise of my response, that you erroneously attribute indication of unjust inequality as the cause of that inequality. You simply respond that inequality is inevitable and disproportion as an effect of inevitable inequality, and base those notions on no verifiable facts. You assume that the system under which the inequality is experienced is fair and just, or at least the interventions by the feds since the civil rights movement have made “racial inequality …no longer … a scapegoat”. Then you note that disproportionality is “… an effect, not a cause”. I never scapegoated inequality nor stated that disproportionality caused anything. Those points are assumed by you in your spurious premise that inequality can be overcome by people simply “distancing themselves from poverty” and stop expecting handouts.  I am glad to see that you have seriously considered history, sociology and economics in arriving at your perspective (sarcasm ).
    First, I never stated that disproportionality “caused” anything. I noted that it is indicative of the systemic injustice that characterizes the social structure of America today. The whole premise of slavery and Jim Crow had economic bases and ends which were to distribute resources in such a way to concentrate them in the hands of a wealthy, white “few”. When, for generations, a society structures inequality through purposeful policies and practices (Jim Crow Laws, denial of schooling, equal protection, and access to healthcare and economic development, among others) inequality is the result. Once inequality is established, the development of human capital is divested and stifled in the communities of the oppressed. Thus we see the generational nature of inequity, or your so called “inevitability”.
     
    You point out government intervention in the civil rights era as making inequality a non-factor. In any attempt at amelioration of an injustice, there must be relief, redress, and reform to set the context for equity. If we are racing in relay race, and I willfully cheat you such that I gain an advantage, as I pass the baton off to my next runner, he has the advantage over your next runner. If an official sees my cheating and demands that I stop cheating (relief) and makes sure I do not cheat ever again (reform) in this race, do you see how my team still has an advantage over yours ? Even if the official says he will add some seconds to my team’s time, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your team will be competing justly with mine (redress). In order to remedy this situation and structure the race equitably, you must redress the disadvantage that your team received from my cheating, so that the outcome of the race won’t be unjustly impacted. Without directly addressing the advantage I gained, the official is merely making the loss by your team more palpable to you by offering a closer time trial as redress for your team ultimately losing the race.
     
    Now, most conservatives see the solution to the social structuring of inequality and disproportionality as merely a need for the poor and minorities to exhibit more discipline and drive to overcome their unjust reality. Government should not do any more (or has done “enough”) to rectify the injustice. This is akin in my race analogy to just telling your team to run faster, because that is all my team is doing, running faster than yours, which is of course untrue and disingenuous.
     
    Systemic injustice would be the lack of redress and remedy in my race analogy. Systemic injustice is the institutional policies, practices, and inaction taken by various entities in a community that have the power , but fail to distribute resources (economic, social, political, educational, etc.) justly. For instance, a school system that suspends black boys disproportionately for offenses that white boys get detention for is part of the systemic injustice that structures society along racial and class lines.  This in turn effects the education black boys receive and could contribute to the disproportionate incarceration of black men. Until the playing field is leveled for the poor and minority populations in America, they will always be running the race toward the so called “American Dream” at a disadvantage.  Some will overcome, but far too many won’t, and thus we see our friend “disproportionality”.
     
    Ultimately, any social reality is not “inevitable” or “natural”. Social relationships are structured by choices that human beings make and the (intended and unintended) consequences of those choices. There is no evidence in history or sound logic that supports the notion that the disproportionate poverty, ill health, and illiteracy in minority communities are just the result of “life”, or people living in community. In market based societies, there will be poverty. But the poverty concentrated in the black and brown community is not a natural occurrence of “pure markets”, but the results of choices made by those in power to maintain that power. And there is nothing just about that.

  • Thomas Atwood

    “I see you haven’t responded to the general premise of my response, that you erroneously attribute indication of unjust inequality as the cause of that inequality.”

    How many double-negatives did you use in this sentence?  Four?  Are you and attorney?  Or maybe a lobbyist?  You have made saying “yes” in a “no” sort of way an art form.

    Let’s see if we can hash this out:

    “I see you haven’t responded. . .” — Okay, now I will.

    “. . . to the general premise of my response. . .” — Chauncey Spears says

    “. . . that you erroneously attribute. . . ” — that Thomas Atwood is wrong when he says

    “. . . indication of unjust inequality. . .” — the Pew study

    “. . . as the cause of that inequality.” — promotes inequality.

    You say I am wrong, I say I am right.  I guess we are both entitled to our opinions.  You know the old saying about opinions — “. . . everyone has one and they all stink.”

    Pew’s study divided Americans into racial groups.  By parroting Pew’s findings in front of a PBS audience, Dr. Rose promotes racial division.

    Dividing people into groups, saying one group is suffering more than another, alienates people against each other.  This is how the minority wealth class remains in power.  They trick the 80% majority into dividing themselves up into little bits and pieces.  Divide and conquer.  The tyranny of the majority is our gullibility to be divided and conquered.

  • guest

    America’s growing inequality? It is very important in today’s American Economy.

    This Inequality exists not only in Education but very obvious today among Employers. Earlier a candidate who was really good in English Language and Mathematics was able to find work without any problems. But today many Employers and Business Entrepreneurs who speak little or no English at all are running the show. This is not Hollywood Movie Entertainment. We are talking about American Business. It is really annoying and unprofessional when a college educated American Graduate looks for employment from these non-English speaking Employers and still cannot find the right job.

    Lots of non-English Speaking Employers are growing in this country and are controlling today’s economy.

    We do not need the English Department and Business Communication Courses in schools and colleges if all the businesses in this country are managed by the non-English Speaking Entrepreneurs.

    Wake up America! Do we need the English Language?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jan.jordaan1 Jan Jordaan

    mmm ‘peace’ is not the issue, that belongs to the realm of religion and the idea of heaven….lets get ‘rational’, whatever, but bring human rights and freedom of expression into the debate, ‘peace’ will follow….

  • Joel_berry2001

       Success like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in order to be successful you have to believe it’s possible. Many times over, minorities are depicted as poor and so viewed as lazy. However if we show our youth the opposite using  positive examples, we will notice an increase in productivity.
        Their is and never again will be an invention as profound as the Internet. We as the older generation have to show our children and let them lead the way as mentioned by The Late Whitney Houston. Make the effort to show a child that by working together that we can make a better you for tomorrow. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/Q2PY5BFKTHO5P2T47YR5ONJCLQ MURCURY MAN

       Success like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in order to be successful you have to believe it’s possible. Many times over, minorities are depicted as poor and so viewed as lazy. However if we show our youth the opposite using  positive examples, we will notice an increase in productivity.
        Their is and never again will be an invention as profound as the Internet. We as the older generation have to show our children and let them lead the way as mentioned by The Late Whitney Houston. Make the effort to show a child that by working together that we can make a better you for tomorrow.