How deep does income inequality go? According to census data, a staggering forty eight percent of the population falls below the poverty line (CBS), while one percent of the population grosses an average of $717,000 a year (Dunn).
The documentary Park Avenue personifies these statistics by showing the stark contrast between the affluent Upper East Side Park Avenue and the lower income South Bronx Park Avenue. The evident gap between rich and poor is slowly increasing, with researchers stating that it has reached levels not seen since the 1920s (DeSilver). The government has made small attempts at balancing out the variation, through social programs and tax proposals, but none have successfully altered the United States’ economic inequity. With the emergence of rich conservatives in political positions, many of whom believe inequality is a myth (Hiltzik), there is a risk that the issue of economic inequality would never even be a discussion, no less a political concern. However, government intervention into the rising inequality can promote fairness in politics, increase equal opportunity and sustain the economy.America prides itself as a great democratic society, but research has shown the government is closer to an oligarchy. Research done on the United States’ political representation shows that politicians more quickly respond to the needs and wants of wealthier individuals as opposed to those of a lower income (Bartels, “Economic Inequality”, Table 1).
In their study, Gilens and Page also corroborate this claim, concluding that moneyed citizens and businesses influence politics more than the average citizen (“Testing Theories”). The powerful interest groups’ opinions, the study posits, are often off course with public opinion, however, powerful interest groups’ opinions have more chance of being taken into account. Furthermore, a study done on members of Congress showed that, when the Congressmen were summoned for a meeting on an upcoming bill, those identified as donors were 19 percent more likely to receive meetings than those identified as constituents (Broockman and Kalla). There is no doubt that money gravely influences political opinions, such as which policies are worth passing or which issue should be discussed. Studies have also found a lack of participation amongst lower income groups, caused by lack of resources, which later turn into lack of voting rates (Krauss).
Despite the lack of resources, those with a lower income may already feel underrepresented or feel that their stances on public issues do not matter. Democracy is defined as “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections” (“democracy”), however, the opinions of the majority are rarely taken into account, unless the opinion is shared with wealthy counterparts or businesses. In order to restore the United States back to a democratic state and restore political fairness, the government has to put in place laws that can instore fairness in political elections.
Just as every person has the right to a government that fairly rules them, they also have the right to fair opportunities. Yet, children born into lower income homes do not hold the educational advantages their wealthy peers do, further cultivating into a lack of educational and technical skills needed to find comfortable careers. In a study, researchers found that children relocated from poverty stricken neighborhoods to upper class ones have more of a chance at upward mobility in adulthood than those who grew up in poverty (Chetty & Hendren, 2015). Kearney and Levine’s research found that males born in lower income homes attending school in higher inequality areas are more likely to drop out than those in lower inequality areas. Their evidence suggests a link between the inequality and dropout rates, and that youth often make educational decisions based upon their perceived future economic success, where many believe that they will not accrue any more economic growth than the generation before them (“Social Mobility”). Those that are able to see a promising future are rendered defeated when the realization hits that they are unable to pay for college without indebting themselves. A recent tax plan ends the tax breaks, such as tuition relief and stipends, Ph.D.
students receive in exchange for teaching classes or assisting with research projects, leaving lower income students lost with no hope to continue their education. One student even took out loans to assist her with basic utility bills and her rent after the recent tax bill (Sullivan & Arnold). For wealthier students, this may seem as no big deal, however, for those already struggling, this may render them in more debt that they will never be able to pay back, or cause them to dropout. Before even considering funding education, politicians need to realize where they are getting the money to fund from. Tax bills favor the very wealthy; however, that’s a small percentage of Americans versus a large percentage who are barely comfortable as is. Once the government proposes a tax bill that satisfies everyone, then the discussion on how to fund education and creating social programs can commence.
So why is the lack of educational advantages any of the government’s concern? Besides the fact that politicians can increase the amount of funding lower income schools receive, a lack of education and qualifications causes a decline in job productivity, possibly leading businesses to shut down and no one contributing to the economy as they did before (Plumer). Rising inequality in the United States may cause the lower middle class and below to borrow more loans than they are unable to pay, creating credit bubbles and a financial crises the United States may not be able to pay their way out of (Drum, Plumer). Macroeconomists predict that the leading cause of the Great Recession of 2008 was income inequality, and how the middle class was reduced to borrowing more and saving less, while the rich gained a continously rising income (Treeck, “U.S. Financial Crisis”). Though the situation at current is not the same, the sentiments are similar; many lower income homes borrow money in order to keep their lives afloat, while the upper class lives lavishly. History repeats itself, and, in order to counteract a recurrence of the Great Recession or even the Great Depression, the government should instate wealth distribution plans that will allow those in poverty to live more comfortably without ruining their credit. Many proposed solutions to income inequality depend upon wealth distribution and heavily taxing the rich.
However, those in risk of heavy taxes believe that income inequality would not be solved through government intervention; in fact, they believe, income inequality is due in part to unwillingness to work hard (Dahlen). Income inequality is essential, explains Dahlen, as it gives incentive to those in poverty to work harder to reach to the highest level. The inequalities issue can be solved at home, and should not be taken to the federal government to solve.
According to Peterson, programs put in place by the government to aid in educational advancement showed no positive correlation for graduation rates. Government funds should be allocated elsewhere needed. Polls have shown that almost fifty percent of population, a large majority of them Republican, believes the government should step back from the issue of economic inequality and just acknowledge its existence (Bowman & Sims). Many are also oppositional to social programs that depend on increased taxes. One cannot deny that personal responsibility plays a part in the reduction of income inequality; however, government assistance can help the process of upward mobility become within reach for poverty stricken individuals. Furthermore, social programs such as Medicare and food stamps have been shown to decrease the poverty rate (Kasperkevic), and allow children growing up on the programs to experience an “average 17 percent increase in annual earnings and an addition 135 hours of work when the children become adults, compared to similar children whose families did not receive the added income.
” (Marr, et al.) On both sides, the fact that income inequality exists can be agreed.