Income Inequality: Separate Not Equal and Why You Should Care

We all know that money is power. Those with the greatest wealth have the greatest influence over what we notice is broken and what we bother to fix in this country. On a day to day basis people vote with their wallets. Even if a wealthy individual is altruistic, he or she only focuses on the issues that he or she values. Sometimes it’s a great cause. But if money is power, growing income inequality, which disproportionately concentrates income among the wealthiest is a threat to democracy itself.

Rising Tides Lift All Boats (In the Yacht Club)

One of my “favorite” claims by those who deny that income inequality is problematic is the following:

People are paid the worth of what they bring into the economy, and those who make their income through honest channels contribute to the creation of wealth that works to lift up all members of our society.  – “Is Income Inequality That Bad” by BridgeND

I just don’t know where to start.

As anyone who’s been through 12 (or less) years of public education will tell you, teachers change lives. While a few contemporary “wealth creators” and “job creators” dropped out of college, I’m pretty sure just about all of them finished high school.  Yet, somehow we don’t think of teachers as great contributors to the economy.

Teachers easily play one of the greatest roles in both “lifting up all members of society” and providing the foundational education upon which these job creators build all of their knowledge and innovation in the future. Yet somehow, we don’t consider elementary school teachers worth nearly as much as supposedly irreplaceable CEOs (we pay many CEOs 100-200 times as much as teachers).

Now as a professional I understand that the higher up in the capitalist food chain you go, the more pressure is on you, the more people are emailing you constantly expecting coherent responses even while you sleep and the more money can be lost by the business when you say something offensive in an interview.

Sure there are more people who can flip a burger without flipping off a customer than there are people who can run a Fortune 500 company. But are they really doing work worth over 200 times what the median worker in the same company makes and over 700 times what a minimum wage worker makes? Besides, it isn’t as if Fortune 500 CEOs really work harder than a typical single mother making $7.50 an hour.

What I really don’t understand though, is why exactly CEOs are making 1000% more than they were 30 years ago. Trust me, it’s not because they’ve increased output by 1000% or added 1000% more value to the US economy. Nope. Many have just taken more home for themselves.

Income-Inequality-When-Income-Grows-Who-Gains-Infographic-1917-to-2008

The CEO of Bank of America received a 23% raise after stocks dropped by nearly 6%. On the other hand, minimum wage workers are making nearly the same real income that they were making 30 years ago.

Ludicrous!

The argument that so-called “wealth creators” benefit all of society is patently false.

And if you want to claim that the economic powerhouses in this country are making all of this money via honest channels, please review the last 10 years of economic history and get back to me.

Separate Not Equal

My main objection to income inequality (and the related wealth gap) goes all the way back to Brown v. BoE. We already know that separate, but equal is a sham. That’s not limited to race based separations. The notion that opportunity inequality and lack of social mobility is somehow disconnected from income inequality just does not follow.

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Sure many poor people in America have [limited] access to [poor quality] housing, get [tiny] food assistance payments, and often have a TV on which to watch their creatively obtained cable. I agree that for many (not all) poverty in America is still quite a lot better than poverty in many places in the developing world. But it’s by no means defensible to claim that America’s poor are sitting pretty. And I find it unconscionable to live the high life in a country where mothers regularly don’t know where their child’s next meal will come from.

Being wealthy in America means that rather than having to take notice of how underpaid, understaffed and overworked public defenders are (God bless them, everyone), you just hire someone at a V50 law firm. It means that rather than dealing with the funding difficulties in our public schools, you take your children out of the system entirely. It means that you get to pretend that living in public housing (were there are some great things like a sense of community, respect and real, strong, creative people) is a pretty solid gig while God help you if you find yourself living in some of the most underfunded and poorly maintained places where you could be killed in a darkened stairwell by a frightened cop or requests for basic repairs may fall on deaf ears. It means you never wonder how you’ll handle your next financial hiccup while living paycheck to paycheck.

Being wealthy in America means that you don’t have to see what the other 99% see on a daily basis when they look around. Income inequality socially disenfranchises individuals who are truly in the trenches, living everyday.

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