Monday, August 13, 2007

America's growing wealth gap

What kind of society do Americans want to create in this century? That question was posed by Amber Arellano in the Detroit News where she discussed the growing inequality between the haves and the have nots. If you know anything about the Detroit News, then you know they're usually a mouthpiece for Republicans, so I was prepared to read that those Americans falling behind are simply lazy, unmotivated people. I was pleasantly surprised. Arellano defends workers and argues that "Globalization is creating extreme winners and losers, much as industrialization did at the turn of the last century," and that we need to figure out how to make globalization work for everyone.

She also points out it's not just globalization that we should blame for the growing inequality.
In the U.S., education is also driving this dynamic. Americans with some college education have realized the strongest growth in wealth with an average net worth increase of 31 percent.

High school graduates' wealth modestly increased; dropouts' wealth actually declined.

That supports a recent survey that found the most likely person to leave Michigan today is a 40-something man with no college education -- the group most displaced by globalization.
So, what's the answer? How do we make globalization work for everyone?
Many Republicans and Democrats avoid talking about growing inequality. If they do, they argue the solution is for more folks to go to college. This crowd likes to blame Americans themselves.

On the other end of the spectrum, leaders such as John Edwards argue that creating more college-goers cannot be the only solution. If all or most Americans get a college education, they say, then the value of a college degree will decrease -- making all college grads' salaries fall.

Passionate Michiganians often echo Edwards' feelings.

The truth is, both crowds are right. The U.S. needs more college graduates to compete globally.

At the same time, we need policies that will reward the hard work of America's non-rich and boost their wealth, regardless of college degree.

We don't want to live in a country where only people with master's degrees can live a decent, middle-class life with strong K-12 schools, college and access to good health care.

Our policies need to consider the additional causes of our widening wealth gap, including tax breaks for the mega-wealthy; the lack of strong U.S. employment strategies; and the decline of unions, which were essential to building 20th-century America's middle class.

The question, really, comes down to this: What kind of society do Americans want to create in this century?

The avoiders will continue to try to weakly dispute whether inequality is growing.

But intelligent leaders and citizens will take on the issue. And the best will figure out how to make globalization work for more people.
Amen. We're not all college material, and quite frankly, we need janitors, plumbers, waiters, home health care aides, etc. Somewhere along the line, we've become snobs in this country. I was raised to respect a person regardless of what they did for a living and I passed that lesson along to my children. Some of them are college graduates and some of them aren't, but they all work hard for a living and deserve a decent middle-class lifestyle, as do all Americans.

Rewarding people for their hard work. That's the kind of society I want America to create in this century, and if leaders step forward with solutions to make that possible, they'll get my vote, and more than likely the votes of millions of other hardworking Americans too.


Cartledge said...

Rewarding people for their hard work
Bearing in mind your previous post - It's time to redefine compassion – I’m wondering if we do not need to remember those who have a limited capacity for hard work. Or put another way, look at other ways people contribute to social wellbeing outside the way we define productivity.
I’m just thinking we can become too rigid in the way we see individual input against socially preferred outcomes. The poet and the muse might not be able to assemble a Ford engine, but they can still make a valuable contribution.
I think we, even we Australians, need to consider the wider values that contribute to our societies.
Mind you, I guess the principles I'm attacking would leave all our politicians in a precarious position.

Larry said...

The wealthy elite have set out on a methodical approach of destroying the middle class, and leaving a society of the ultra rich vs the ultra poor.

Millions of U.S jobs are fleeing to China and elsewhere, our nations infrastructure is falling apart, more than 47 million are without healthcare, and nearly 40 million Americans are homeless.

Very sad state the most prosperous nation in the world has become.

abi said...

You're right. We've got to stop paying lip service to the value of hard work, and put our money where our mouth is. Fact is, we don't mean it, as a society.

America has been bleeding manufacturing jobs for decades. Now we're starting to bleed hi-tech jobs. This doesn't portend well for a solid middle class.