Opinion: The Shame of Income Inequality

The world: America has run it for a while. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the greatest power in the world, with a military that has been the strongest on earth for 120 years and is six times as expensive as China’s, six of the twenty most profitable companies on earth, and 34% of all Nobel Prizes with just 4% of the world’s population. Put simply, the US is globally dominant. Lamentably, despite this outstanding performance, there is a huge income gap between the rich and the poor in the United States, which is one of the most serious issues facing our country, especially domestically.

Inequality has been empirically measured by a measurement called the Gini coefficient, which combines a variety of dynamics within an economy to give a value of income inequality. A score of zero indicates perfect equality, while a score of 100 indicates maximum inequality. In 2013, the US Census Bureau measured a shameful Gini coefficient of 47.6, which is the highest level of inequality in the developed world. For proof of this statistic, we need look no further than one of the richest families in America: six family members of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, have more wealth than the bottom 30% of Americans.

Income inequality creates a wide variety of issues for American society. It polarizes political opinions, encourages disproportionate political representation of classes, and creates other inequalities in education, health, and opportunity. While it had its problems, the Occupy Wall Street movement vividly reflected the anger that many lower-income Americans feel towards the upper class.

It is the duty of the state to give equal opportunity for success to all of its citizens, and income inequality of the magnitude that currently exists in the US does not allow for that. A child born into a wealthy family has access to better schools, healthcare, and communities and thus has a greater chance for success than a child born into a poorer family.

To reduce this socially destructive inequality, changes must occur. The most impactful change possible would be restructuring income taxes. While there is much posturing rhetoric about “class warfare,” in all actuality, taxing the rich more can benefit the economy as a whole, provided the extra revenue is appropriated wisely. Using taxes from those making millions of dollars a year to finance education for all, especially those living on pennies, will lead to higher-skilled workers with better productivity. In all likelihood, this will increase the profits of the companies typically owned by the 1%, resulting in a better future for everyone. This is but one of a number of changes that need to happen to curtail the shameful, socially destructive, economically harmful inequality that exists in the United States today.

Positions taken in opinion pieces published on this blog are not officially endorsed by the University of Denver Roosevelt Institute. They are the opinions of the author(s) alone.