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The Economic Inequality of America

First off, social justice is an umbrella term that includes many different topics, but with a common thread that runs through them: the human element. It’s a broad term that exists to explain the drive and motivation for people to unite under a particular cause for positive change in the society around them. It’s about identifying the injustice being done in the world and doing everything in our power to turn the tide and attempt to right the wrongs. It’s not a challenge that advocates for social justice take lightly as it’s an uphill battle in regards to many of the topics that fall under that umbrella term. One of those uphill battles that has been going on for years and years is economic inequality or the disparity in wealth between the rich and poor.

Plutarch, a Greek historian and biographer, once said, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”

Once you begin to think about those words you can start to look back through history and see that those words ring very true. The gap between the rich and the poor is something that has been under much scrutiny over the years and especially now, as the gap in wealth in America has achieved a frightening level. An article published today at digs deeper into this issue of economic inequality in America and how it’s worse than we think. This article cites the recently published work of economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman as primary evidence of this country’s economic direction. Since these economists didn’t have government records of wealth on hand, they developed a method to estimate the spread of wealth by using income records. They found that from the 1930s to the 1970s, the U.S. went through a pretty stable share of wealth, but after that the numbers began to shift dramatically as they stated, “The trend then inverted, with the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent increasing to 22 percent in 2012 from 7 percent in the late 1970s. The top 0.1 percent includes 160,000 families with total net assets of more than $20 million in 2012.” To go along with that startling point, “Saez and Zucman show that, in America, the wealthiest 160,000 families own as much wealth as the poorest 145 million families, and that wealth is about 10 times as unequal as income.” Think about that, 160,000 families own as much as the poorest 145 million families. That’s surreal. That is the definition of economic inequality and it ties in with the popular belief that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

A look at the total household wealth in the U.S. over the years.

A look at the total household wealth in the U.S. over the years.

There are multiple reasons for these statistics as middle-class workers are having to deal with wages that aren’t increasing and faced with the challenge of competing with lower-wage labor outside of the U.S. This is forcing the middle class to spend what little they have on the necessities and not leaving much room for saving money on the side, which in turn can lead into serious debt. This is a major problem for our society as a whole because when the middle class isn’t spending, it hurts businesses around the country creating a domino effect that only harms our fragile economy more and more. Sadly, there are no easy solutions to this form of inequality, but maybe with some tax reform and other policies this current economic trend can start heading in the right direction for the benefit of all Americans.