“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” ~Plutarch
It has been awhile since I graced the blogiverse with a good old-fashioned political rant, so in the interest of keeping the “political” in the political ninja lets talk about the immense income inequality in this country. More specifically, how the influence of money on the government and the increasing income disparity between the wealthy and everyone else are creating a playing field that is increasing stacked in favor of the richest Americans. This increasing disparity not only permeates vital sectors of American economic and social institutions, but if left unchecked, is a danger to the future success of this country.
The rising income gap between the richest Americans and the working class is contributing to a slow economic recovery. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “The average annual earnings of the top 1 percent of wage earners grew 156 percent from 1979 to 2007; for the top 0.1 percent they grew 362 percent” (Mishel, Bivens, Gould, and Shierholz 2012). The same study found that the bottom 90 percent only increased by a mere 17 percent over the same time period. Meanwhile the cost of living has continued to increase, meaning the middle class is less able to afford to purchase the goods and services needed to boost our economy domestically. Despite what some people will tell you, all the trickle down by the 1 percent in the world is not enough to make up for the loss of purchase power that comes from a vibrant well taken care of middle class.
As the middle class becomes less secure financially, the next generations are left to fend for themselves when it comes to funding their much-needed higher education. Over the past ten years a college education has risen exponentially. Tuition at an average university has risen over 100 percent during the same time period. Unfortunately, government aid on both the state and federal levels have not come close to matching this increase. Furthermore, as middle class families have continued to see their incomes stagnate and shrink they’ve been less able to put aside the money needed to shoulder this heavy burden. Leaving many of the best and brightest poor and middle class college students burdened with working full-time and taking out thousands of dollars of student loan debt just to get the training they need to contribute to the economic engine of this country. All of this leads to young generation that is entering their working lives buried in debt and ill equipped to contribute to the financial growth our nation needs to reach its full potential.
The increased financial burden on the American people coupled with the uneven influence of monied interests on the political process is creating a sense of despair and apathy among younger generations unhealthy to a functioning democracy. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, Citizens United and its complete dismantling of campaign finance laws meant to curb the influence of big money donors has severely damaged the accessibility of electoral politics in this country. This coupled with the constant struggle to survive many young, middle-class, and poor Americans face in light of a depressed job market and massive personal debt is making engagement in the process increasingly difficult for all but the wealthiest Americans. This nation is and should not be an Aristocracy. However, if we continue down this path where the rich continue to get richer atop the economic mountain while everyone else continues to slide further down the slope, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.
Does this means we should give up? Do what we can to leap into the echelons of the wealthy before it’s too late? Not if we believe in the principles of freedom this country is founded on. The middle class, the poor and yes even the wealthy should work together to implement policies that bring us all a bit closer together. This means paying our hard-working members of the bottom 90 percent enough money to live a semi-comfortable lifestyle with a little left over for a rainy day. Even if that means the richest Americans have to sacrifice a small-portion of their substantial wealth. Furthermore, it means investing in the next generation of citizens by putting money into curbing the costs of higher education and finding creative ways to reduce or eliminate most of their debt. Lastly, we must stop thinking of those less fortunate than us as merely lazy, and start taking steps to ensure everyone in this country is given a fair chance at success. Only then will we cease to be a society of haves and have-nots and come together to build a future worthy of the principles this country was built on.