There is today in the U.S. much concern about income inequality and I have devoted many posts to this topic recently such as “Are economics and Social Progress Related to Each Other?”, “How to Expand Economic Mobility”, and “Richer and Poorer.”
The above CBO chart shows that income inequality has not changed much in the last 30 years once government transfers and federal taxes are taken into account. Along the same line, the Manhattan Institute’s Oren Cass makes a strong case in, “The Inequality Cycle,” that Americans should be paying at least as much attention to the social aspects of inequality as to the economic aspects.
- As Charles Murray shows in “Coming Apart,” (http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Apart-State-America-1960-2010/dp/030745343X) the upper class has remained stable with respect to marriage rates (94% in 1960, 84% in 2010), civic involvement, and trust in society while for the lower class marriage rates (84% in 1960, 48% in 2010 and dropping), civic involvement and public trust have all declined significantly.
- Children in the lower classes are five times more likely to face abuse, violence, addiction and the death or imprisonment of a parent.
- By the time they reach kindergarten, 72% of middle class children know the alphabet compared with only 19% of poor children.
- The fraction of children with a single parent is the best predictor of upward economic mobility in a particular region, whereas the level of income inequality is not a significant predictor.
Mr. Cass suggests that public policy should focus on these social problems at least as much as on income inequality. For example:
- Education reform should be focused on both ends of the K-12 spectrum: early childhood education to ensure that all children are ready to learn when they get to school and better vocational education in high school so that graduates can find a good job if they’re not going to college.
- Remove onerous regulations on the workplace so that employers are not pushed unnecessarily into independent contractor arrangements.
- The federal government should be more supportive of marriage (e.g. with tax policy), and the participation of religious organizations in the delivery of public social services (to improve their quality).
Conclusion: Being poorly raised does more to cut off opportunity than being raised poor.