Why Widening Inequality Is Hobbling Equal Opportunity

upward mobilityIs it to be inequality or equal opportunity?

Under a headline “Obama Moves to the Right in a Partisan War of Words,” The New York Times’ 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, “it is demonstrably less important to voters than any other number of priorities, including reducing poverty.”

The President may be listening. Wags noticed that in his State of the Union, Obama spoke ten times of increasing “opportunity” and only twice of income inequality, while in a December speech he spoke of income inequality two dozen times.

But the President and other Democrats — and even Republicans, for that matter — should focus on the facts, not the polls, and not try to dress up what’s been happening with more soothing words and phrases.

In fact, America’s savage inequality is the main reason equal opportunity is fading and poverty is growing. Since the “recovery” began, 95% of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, and median incomes have dropped. This is a continuation of the trend we’ve seen for decades. As a result:

  • 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.
  • The shrinking middle isn’t generating enough tax revenue for adequate education, training, safety nets, and family services. And when they’re barely holding on, they can’t afford to — and don’t want to — pay more.
  • Meanwhile, America’s rich are accumulating not just more of the country’s total income and wealth, but also the political power that accompanies money. And they’re using that power to reduce their own taxes, and get corporate welfare (subsidies, bailouts, tax cuts) for their businesses.

Robert ReichAll this means less equality of opportunity in America.

Obama was correct in December when he called widening inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” He mustn’t back down now even if Democratic pollsters tell him to. If we’re ever to reverse this noxious trend, Americans have to hear the truth.

Robert Reich


  1. harry says

    You have discovered the truth about our economy. You have not discovered the cure so far. You can not get enough money out of the well to do to pay all our bills. You need to get the middle class jobs and jobs do not come from the Gov. We need to educate the population more than any other thing. I saw a story about a suffer on welfare, he lived on the beach or at a friends home, but he ate good. (free food stamps). We must do all we can to educate the population, some in college and some in trade school. If I were POTUS, my main cause would be to make tax payers of everyone I could. If we have too many tax users and too few tax payers, over time, we are up the creek without paddles..

  2. harry says

    If you think the-one-percent are on easy street, think
    again. I am writing about a different one percent of our citizens, those that
    serve in the nation’s military. That current one percent who are serving the remaining 99 percent lean toward the conservative part of the nation Most of
    them are on the receiving end of much more than just wealth or income, they are rich with pride of being the few who offer their lives if need be to protect
    the 99 percent of us. These men and women offer the best years of their lives to protect the rest of us from the numerous evils around the world and go anywhere to do it. Recently, our government proposed that when
    these military members reach their retirement age, a minimum 20 years after
    they joined the military or were disabled by service, they will receive the amount of retirement due at their retirement date but a new law will cause them not to receive any cost of living raises until they reach age 62. It is difficult to remain in the Army until age 62. Can you image a division of
    senior citizens charging the enemy or trying to defend a place from an equal
    number of charging enemy soldiers? This one percent of our citizens may have to live for 24 years without receiving any increase in retirement pay while the cost of living (inflation) increases. This will be the only class of workers who would be denied a cost of living allowance (COLA), yet Congress members would get their increases. The military is not an easy life. There are several places where people shoot at them or plant roadside bombs to explode and kill these men and women as they drive past. I am well over 62 and served many years ago. My assignments included tours in South
    Korea and South Vietnam. I had two tours in Europe, one over 100 miles
    behind the Iron Curtain. Creature comforts were not high in any of these places and many included people who would shoot at you. I still dream about driving a jeep down highway 13 from An Loc. A military life is not a life one
    can live for forty years or more unless your job is serving in only a support
    roles, truck mechanic. Of all the groups of citizens I can think of, the military is the one most deserving of your support and is the only government department our Constitution requires us to fund with our tax dollars.

    If the Department of Defense needs more money, stop the GAO from
    spending money to maintain empty buildings and having wine parties in hot
    tubs. Sell those unused buildings and stop the parties and give the money to the department of defense. Do not steal from those military persons who
    are defending your country. These benefits were promised to induce them to join and serve and to take them away after they have served is dishonest. I
    can not understand the thinking of the two houses of Congress that agreed to do this. I would like to know who recommended this idea.. Ask your
    congress person it they did. A retired vet.

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