Income Inequality And The New Year

When I think about what one thing would benefit the most people, I keep coming back to income inequality. And I keep recalling this speech by Obama from a year ago. I really like it. There’s so much here. It’s the one where he said:

I believe [inequality] is the defining challenge of our time.
Remarks by the President on Economic Mobility, The White House, 4 December 2013

A dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility [has] jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain — that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.

He also said, notably, that the income and opportunity gap, “is now as much about class as it is about race.” That’s it’s now affecting large swaths of people. I see this. People can’t afford to buy a home, to send their children to college, to become educated themselves. (“Education is the most important predictor of income.”) Students are saddled with untenable loan debt. Can you believe there was a time when higher education was free to students? In the 1960s it was.

The median income in this country hovers around $50,000. That means half of Americans make that or below. How do they afford the $5,000 or $10,000 deductible and co-pay on their health insurance policy? (Dr. King once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”) So, they pay the premium but never go to the doctor.

Health insurance in this country is a racket. The more sick people, the better for business. And when people can’t afford to eat a good diet, make time for exercise and rest … their ranks swell. By the time they reach retirement age, they have poor health, little savings (“About half of all households don’t have any retirement savings.”) and grim prospects. Given the growing lack of empathy in this country, seniors, as I’ve noticed, are becoming invisible, especially poor seniors. Obama recalled the Pope’s remark in his speech:

The Pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length.  “How can it be,” [Pope Francis] wrote, “that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Speaking of the Pope, he reiterated Obama’s call at the beginning of this post, in his Tweet:

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When we exchange wishes for a happy and prosperous new year, are these the things we think about?

3 thoughts on “Income Inequality And The New Year

  1. Melinda

    I agree that Obama is now being the President he always wanted to be but was held back by other forces. With 2 yrs left in office, he hasn’t as much to lose by really being himself. And he’s right about class as an inequality factor. You can have a job, earn an income, and as you point out, still barely make it financially. And those jobs–if you cobble together several part-time jobs, for the income, you generally don’t get benefits–so no healthcare, pension, 401 K, etc. PLUS, the less money you make, the less goes into your personal social security and medicare funds, so you lose out there too. (Oh, btw, I went to college in the 60s, and it wasn’t free, not even at state colleges for in-state residents. I believe the only state school that had free higher ed in the 60s was California. There are a few private colleges today–generally religious–that have no tuition–Berea in KY comes to mind, though there are a few others. State colleges are hard-pressed to do the same, as their funding in many states has been brutally slashed by their state legislatures–it’s a tough time in higher ed, as well as in primary & secondary schools.)

    Reply
    1. Bix Post author

      Yes, Melinda, many state colleges didn’t charge tuition until the 1960s. Not just California.

      “A college education was seen not so much as a private benefit but as a public good, in the belief that the state could only gain by having an educated citizenry.”
      http://www.remappingdebate.org/print?content=node%2F273

      “Many state universities didn’t charge tuition until the 1960s or 70s.”
      http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/blog/grandmas_tuition_bill.php

      “Many public colleges and universities were once tuition-free.”
      “In 1976, CUNY’s [City University of New York school system] board voted to impose tuition for the first time.”
      http://magazine.good.is/articles/whatever-happened-to-when-college-was-free

      There are still places that see education as a public good:
      A Guide to Tuition-Free Colleges and Universities for International Students

      Reply

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