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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

(In)equality in America

It seems that with all the recent debate surrounding the Bush tax cuts, the “”don’t ask, don’t tell”” policy, the new START treaty and what to do with North Korea, Americans have forgotten a subject essential to its future success: equality. Over the past three decades, the rich have been getting richer, while the middle and lower classes have become poorer. In a recent article in The New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof claimed that income inequality in America was worse than traditional “”banana republics”” like Nicaragua and Venezuela. Unfortunately, he had the facts to back it up.  

Currently, the top 1 percent of Americans earn 24 percent of the nation’s income and the top 10 percent earn nearly 50 percent. In 2001, CEOs of American companies earned an average of 531 times more than the average American worker, compared to just 42 times more in 1980. Income inequality in America is now worse than it was on the eve of the Great Depression.  

Since the 1980s, corporations and politicians on both sides of the aisle have focused more on corporate profits than the stability of American workers. Corporations have come to care more about their stock price than anything else. Corporate executives make most of their money through stock options and are rewarded for making the company more profitable. This sounds fair; after all, is it not the goal of a company to make money? Of course it is, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the American worker. Making a company more profitable often means, among other things, job layoffs or outsourcing jobs overseas. Unfortunately, whenever a big layoff is announced, that company’s stock tends to soar, making more money for those at the top, while hurting those in the middle and at the bottom.  

Surprisingly, most Americans don’t seem to care about the huge gap in income. According to Timothy Noah of Slate Magazine, “”economic inequality is less troubling if you live in a country where any child, no matter how humble his or her origins, can grow up to be president.”” While many American children may feel like they can grow up to be president, many won’t ever have the opportunity. Legally, anybody born in the United States and over the age of 35 can run for president, but actually getting elected takes powerful connections and lots of money.  Barack Obama may not have been born wealthy, but many extremely gifted children coming from a poor background don’t get the chance to study at Ivy League schools like he did, no matter how hard they work.

The American dream isn’t what it used to be, and now your chances of moving up the economic ladder are better in most of Europe, Canada and Australia than here in the United States. Of course, with hard work, anyone has the potential to make it to the top, but the chances of that actually happening are pretty slim. While many corporate executives got to their positions through honest dedication to their professions, many others had their positions handed to them through the help of family connections.  

The fact that the top 1 percent of the country controls so much of the American economy is not healthy. After all, it is the American middle class who fueled its greatness, not the wealthy, and it was the extreme inequality in Latin America that helped prevent it from growing economically. This isn’t meant to bash the wealthy; they’re lucky enough to be in a position that everybody else covets. People should strive to end up at the top, but the current numbers are extremely troubling. Corporations and the government shouldn’t focus solely on profits. While they are important, so is the rebirth of American manufacturing and other low-skill jobs.  

How can America move forward if all it does is further enrich the wealthy? It’s hard to believe that only 40 years ago, corporations actually viewed themselves as stakeholders in their communities, America had a strong manufacturing sector, blue-collar workers could make a comfortable living and we were still the envy of the world.

— Andrew Shepherd is a political science senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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