Why Widening Inequality Is Hobbling Equal Opportunity
Is it to be inequality or equal opportunity?
Under a headline “Obama Moves to the Right in a Partisan War of Words,” The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes notes Democratic operatives have been hitting back hard against the President or any other Democratic politician talking about income inequality, preferring that the Democrats talk about equality of opportunity instead.
"However salient reducing inequality may be," writes Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, “it is demonstrably less important to voters than any other number of priorities, including reducing poverty.”
The President may be listening. Wags noticed that in his State of the Union, Obama spoke ten times of increasing “opportunity” and only twice of income inequality, while in a December speech he spoke of income inequality two dozen times. But the President and other Democrats — and even Republicans, for that matter — should focus on the facts, not the polls, and not try to dress up what’s been happening with more soothing words and phrases.
In fact, America’s savage inequality is the main reason equal opportunity is fading and poverty is growing. Since the “recovery” began, 95% of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, and median incomes have dropped. This is a continuation of the trend we’ve seen for decades. As a result:
- The sinking middle class no longer has enough purchasing power to keep the economy growing and creating sufficient jobs. The share of working-age Americans still in the labor force is the lowest in more than thirty years.
- The shrinking middle isn’t generating enough tax revenue for adequate education, training, safety nets, and family services. And when they’re barely holding on, they can’t afford to — and don’t want to — pay more.
- Meanwhile, America’s rich are accumulating not just more of the country’s total income and wealth, but also the political power that accompanies money. And they’re using that power to reduce their own taxes, and get corporate welfare (subsidies, bailouts, tax cuts) for their businesses.
All this means less equality of opportunity in America. Obama was correct in December when he called widening inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” He mustn’t back down now even if Democratic pollsters tell him to. If we’re ever to reverse this noxious trend, Americans have to hear the truth.
The War On The Middle Class Families
Most Americans are on a downward escalator. Median household pay is dropping, adjusted for inflation. A smaller share of working-age Americans are in jobs than at any time in the last three decades.
Only 113,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in January 2014, on top of a paltry 75,000 in December 2013.
We need a new WPA* to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, a higher minimum wage, strong unions, investments in education, and extended unemployment benefits for those who still can’t find a job. When 95% of the economic gains go to the top 1%, the middle class and poor don’t have the purchasing power to keep it going.
Yet too many still believe in trickle-down economics — that the wealthy are the job creators, and tax cuts for big corporations and the rich will boost the economy. The real job creators are the vast middle class and the poor — when they have enough money in their pockets. That’s the only way out of the vicious cycle we’re now in.
* WPA: Created by order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) created job for millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads.
Connecting the Dots
MOVEON.ORG -- Robert Reich connects the dots to show how a range of positions, on issues ranging from the minimum wage to unemployment insurance to food stamps, work together to keep poor and working families in desperate situations.
About the Author
ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock" and “The Work of Nations." His latest, "Beyond Outrage," is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
Books by Robert Reich
Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few -- by Robert B. Reich
America was once celebrated for and defined by its large and prosperous middle class. Now, this middle class is shrinking, a new oligarchy is rising, and the country faces its greatest wealth disparity in eighty years. Why is the economic system that made America strong suddenly failing us, and how can it be fixed?
Click here for more info or to order this book on Amazon.
Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it -- by Robert B. Reich
In this timely book, Robert B. Reich argues that nothing good happens in Washington unless citizens are energized and organized to make sure Washington acts in the public good. The first step is to see the big picture. Beyond Outrage connects the dots, showing why the increasing share of income and wealth going to the top has hobbled jobs and growth for everyone else, undermining our democracy; caused Americans to become increasingly cynical about public life; and turned many Americans against one another. He also explains why the proposals of the “regressive right” are dead wrong and provides a clear roadmap of what must be done instead. Here’s a plan for action for everyone who cares about the future of America.
Click here for more info or to order this book on Amazon.