Wealth, poverty and policy
What kind of society are we becoming?
Nicholas Kristof gets to the heart of the unequal distribution of wealth in the US with his op-ed piece, Why Let the Rich Hoard All the Toys? . He cites Economic Policy Institute‘s data that shows the top 1 percent in the U.S. possesses greater collective worth than the bottom 90 percent, making inequality in the U.S. greater than any time since the Great Depression. Kristoff recommends a focus on inner-city and rural education and job training to address this inequality. Necessary, but not sufficient. Every component of the current budget debate has the capacity to widen or narrow this gap. There are 12,016 lobbyists in D.C. who have spent $2.45 billion attempting to influence policymakers in 2012 for their particular niche. (source). We, the voters, will have to become more vocal as counterpoint to the influence of money.
The Institute for Policy Studies has evaluated how well members of Congress do in supporting legislation to narrow America’s widening economic divide. You can look on Equality Report Card to see that our own Virginia Foxx has a grade of C-.
In North Carolina where the conservative grip on the state was solidified with the November election, NCPolicyWatch‘s data shows that one in four children live in poverty and 42% of adults born into the bottom fifth of income distribution remain there as adults. Since 2000, incomes for the bottom 40% dropped and incomes for the top 25% increased. The Great American Promise of being able to make it with hard work is becoming more remote.
Last year, the Republican-dominated General Assembly gave one of the state’s largest tax breaks in a decade to businesses. That break meant a loss of $336 million a year in state revenue – an estimated $132 million this year – and was generally recognized as a misguided boon for well-off doctors, lawyers and business owners. Even many of the doctors, lawyers and businesspeople cried foul about the largesse coming their way.
The North Carolina Justice Center’s Prosperity Watch has this to say:
Growing income inequality is not inevitable, however. As policymakers consider reforming the state’s tax code and reshaping the biennial budget, they should pursue policies that reduce rather than exacerbate the state’s worsening trends in income inequality.
We’re going to need to keep prodding them to do the right thing.