When President Obama addresses the nation February 12 in his State of the Union Address, a part of his speech will focus on how to stimulate long-term growth and help middle-class Americans, according to an article in The New York Times.
Helping middle class Americans reclaim their “dream” is the subject of a recent book by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Hedrick Smith. MetroFocus anchor Rafael Pi Roman interviewed Smith.
Smith’s book, entitled, “Who Stole the American Dream?” argues that there is growing economic inequality in America and that there are a few steps Americans can and should take to halt the divide.
Smith claims today’s America faces not just a wealth gap but a “wealth chasm.” He explained how he reached the conclusions he draws in his book by examining America’s economic and political policies over the past generation.
“We need to go out on the streets, get in there, mix it up in politics and engage again”
“We need to activate,” Smith told Pi Roman. “We need to go out on the streets, get in there, mix it up in politics and engage again.”
WIDENING WEALTH GAP
According to Smith, the widening gulf in equality is not the inevitable by-product of globalization and technology, but rather the result of a series of power shifts in Washington, beginning in the late 70s.
Smith portrays a nation fraying on many fronts: “We are today a sharply divided country, divided by power, money and ideology,” he writes. “The fault lines that divide us run deep.”
New government data reinforces Smith’s bleak diagnosis. Numbers from the Social Security Administration show wage inequality, which lessened during the economic downturn, has begun to expand again during the recent economic recovery. During that period, annual wages of the top 1.0% grew 8.2% from 2009-2011, while real annual wages for the bottom 90% fell by 1.2% for the same period.
Global Post issued a new report that examines American inequality through a global lens. See “The Great Divide: Global Income Inequality and its Cost” on the Global Post’s website.
The study uses the Gini coefficient, a system which attributes specific places with an inequality index from zero to one, to pair US metro areas with countries around the world possessing similar Gini readings.
Fairfield County, Connecticut , for example, where impoverished city Bridgeport sits 29 miles away but worlds away in terms of lifestyle from leafy Greenwich, is paired with Bangkok, Thailand, where glitzy shopping malls are situated on the doorstep of one of the city’s most infamous slums. The report explores how people in both parts of the world have been engaging with government policy on a street level.
For Smith, an increase in street- level political engagement is key in any attempt to tackle America’s inequality. In his interview with MetroFocus, Smith acknowledges the problem has been “a long time developing and is therefore going to take a long time to solve,” but he says there are concrete things that can and should be done.
On a related note, last fall MetroFocus interviewed Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor and author of the best-selling book “The Price of Inequality.” Stiglitz had hoped Occupy Wall Street would lead the country to change, but he found that it failed to achieve the broad societal change to which it aspired.