It is well understood that income inequality is increasing in the U.S. for a number of reasons: economic globalization, the rapid development of new technology and the slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2007 – 2009.
The New York Times’ economics journalist, Eduardo Porter, discusses the social effects of this ominous trend in the article “Income Inequality Is Costing the U.S. on Social Issues.” For example:
- The U.S. has the highest teenage birthrate in the developed world – seven times the rate in France, for example.
- More than one out of four U.S. children lives with one parent, the largest percentage by far amongst industrialized nations.
- More than a fifth of U.S. kids live in poverty, sixth from the bottom among the OECD.
- Among adults, seven out of every 1000 are in prison, five times the rate for other rich democracies and three times the U.S. rate from four decades ago.
- In 1980 the infant mortality rate in the U.S. was about the same as in Germany. Today it is almost twice the rate as for German babies.
- American babies born to white, college educated, married women survive as often as those born to advantaged women in Europe. It is the babies born to nonwhite, non-married, non-prosperous women who die so young.
In other words, there is huge social disparity between the well-off and the poor in the U.S. and, furthermore, the resulting social breakdown is getting worse. Why has this been happening?
Conservatives say that it is the fault of a growing welfare state which has sapped Americans’ industriousness and sense of self-responsibility. Liberals say that welfare programs arn’t extensive enough to withstand the strict demands of globalization and technological development.
Mr. Porter concludes that, “the challenge America faces is not simply a matter of equity. The bloated incarceration rates, rock-bottom life expectancy, unraveling families and stagnant college graduation rates amount to an existential threat to the nation’s future.”
I tend to agree. Is our democratic political process capable of responding in a satisfactory manner? I will return to this theme often in the coming months!