Why widening inequality is hobbling equal opportunity(Read article summary)
In a war of words, is the US best served by focusing on income inequality or equality of opportunity? Robert Reich argues that income inequality is limiting opportunity and helping to grow poverty across the country.
Jessica Stewart/St. Joseph News-Press/AP/File
Is it to be inequality or equal opportunity?Â
Under a headline â€śObama Moves to the Right in a Partisan War of Words,â€ť The New York Timesâ€™ Jackie Calmes notes Democratic operatives have been hitting back hard against the President or any other Democratic politician talking about income inequality, preferring that the Democrats talk about equality of opportunity instead.
"However salient reducing inequality may be," writes Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, â€śit is demonstrably less important to voters than any other number of priorities, including reducing poverty.â€ť
The President may be listening. Wags noticed that in his State of the Union, Obama spoke ten times of increasing â€śopportunityâ€ť and only twice of income inequality, while in a December speech he spoke of income inequality two dozen times.Â
But the President and other Democrats â€” and even Republicans, for that matter â€” should focus on the facts, not the polls, and not try to dress up whatâ€™s been happening with more soothing words and phrases.Â
In fact, Americaâ€™s savage inequality is the main reason equal opportunity is fading and poverty is growing. Since the â€śrecoveryâ€ť began, 95% of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, and median incomes have dropped. This is a continuation of the trend weâ€™ve seen for decades.Â As a result:
(1) The sinking middle class no longer has enough purchasing power to keep the economy growing and creating sufficient jobs. The share of working-age Americans still in the labor force is the lowest in more than thirty years.Â
(2) The shrinking middle isnâ€™t generating enough tax revenue for adequate education, training, safety nets, and family services. And when theyâ€™re barely holding on, they canâ€™t afford to â€” and donâ€™t want to â€” pay more.
(3) Meanwhile, Americaâ€™s rich are accumulating not just more of the countryâ€™s total income and wealth, but also the political power that accompanies money. And theyâ€™re using that power to reduce their own taxes, and get corporate welfare (subsidies, bailouts, tax cuts) for their businesses.
All this means less equality of opportunity in America.Â
Obama was correct in December when he called widening inequality â€śthe defining challenge of our time.â€ť He mustnâ€™t back down now even if Democratic pollsters tell him to. If weâ€™re ever to reverse this noxious trend, Americans have to hear the truth.Â