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Ask about rising income inequality

ASK THIS | June 21, 2004

Economics professor and blogger Brad DeLong says reporters should be asking more about the growth in American income inequality. Third of a series (see previous).

By Brad DeLong


Q. Has increased income and wealth inequality been reflected in increased social-status inequality? Are the barriers between the rich, the middle class, and the poor greater than they were two generations ago? Find ways to determine whether members of the middle class and poor feel more removed from the rich than they did in previous generations.


Q. Many more jobs are open to African-Americans today than two generations ago. But many are still in working-class jobs, and the income gap between working-class jobs and professional jobs has widened considerably. Can you find ways to net out these two effects and determine if African-Americans are more or less empowered in relative terms than two generations ago?


Q. Two generations ago the U.S. had relatively few non-native-born residents. Now the non-native-born make up about an eighth of the population. Can you find ways to illustrate how the experience of relative poverty is different for immigrants than for native-born?


Q. How has increasing concentration of income and wealth changed our politics? Is the broad support for estate-tax repeal a direct result of a critical mass of politically-active people expecting to leave large estates to their children? So many of the wealthy send their children to private schools or to public schools in elite suburban enclaves – can you determine if they have lost interest in funding public education and public works that benefit the entire population?


Q. Ask people how they feel about not being able to afford the kind of house they grew up in. Do all the other benefits of the modern economy – cleaner air, big-screen DVD players, the Internet, cheaper airfares  – make up for it?


Q. What is happening to the relationship between education and upward mobility? Does education still offer the poor and middle class a shot at upward mobility? Or are the reduced educational opportunities for the poor in fact keeping them poor?


We are now a much more unequal society than we were in the 1960s. We are not yet back to Gilded Age levels of relative inequality, but we are definitely trending in that direction.




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