Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Poverty and Economic Inequality

This topic honors the appearance of John Edwards on the Today show this morning to discuss his upcoming work on poverty issues.

Many people don't seem to believe the depth of the problem. Globally, it is a day-to-day concern of so many just trying to survive. A researcher, Milanovic, found that the richest 25% of the world's population receives 75% of the world's income. I found this in the atlas on inequality maintained by University of California Santa Cruz.

Closer to home, here in the U. S., only workers in the top 20% of wage earners experienced gains in real wages between 1973 and 1997. The top 20% of American wage earners in 2000 eaerned as much as the bottom 80% (that from the Census Bureau).

Edward Wolfe reported in "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership 1983 - 1998", a study for the Jerome Levy Economic Institute (2000), that the top 1% of houesholds controls as much wealth as the bottom 95%!

All those statistics can seem overwhelming, even for this math professor! However, that is not the human face on the problem. And there are human faces. The human faces on the problem are the faces of people who come to my Church for a food bag on Tuesdays. The human faces on the problem are those of the community residents who humble themselves to request a Thanksgiving or Christmas basket so their families will have a better holiday. The human faces on the problem are those of students who can't afford to stay in college.

What can be done? I believe in the short run, we need to continue to support comunity outreach programs and keep our safety net intact (please, decision makers do not cut from food and nutrition programs). In the long run, we need to see that people get educated and see that there is something to aspire to beyond their present experience. One thing that bothers me as an educator is the poor condition of some of our schools - mostly in the inner cities. We want our young people to go to school, become educated, productive citizens. What kind of signal are we sending to them if their schools are dilapidated?

And I just have to wonder about this great disparity between the haves and the have-nots. I think about the few that have such great incomes. How many millions are enough? Couldn't some of those in the top 1% make do with, say a yearly income of 1 million instead of 2? 5 million instead of 10? How much food would that buy? How many police officers, firefighters, or teachers (ok, I am a bit biased here) could be paid?
I also wonder if tax cuts (which even the Wall St. Journal reported benefit mostly the wealthy) when we are facing a tight budget are really a good idea.
Some months ago, the Phila.Inquirer ran an article by Professor Robert H. Frank of Cornell. The article told of the economics and psychology of why the middle class is being squeezed. I e-mailed Prof. Frank to compliment him and received a nice reply that also made me sad. He said he had gotten many very vitriolic responses to his article. I don't understand why people are so uncivil! Online, I found a article based on one of his lectures which has a lot of the same information as the Inquirer arcticle and even more goodies. You can find it online . The website which hosts it has lots of resources for understanding issues relating to economic inequality.
John Edwards will be working on these issues and has started a thread on his blog for people to post their ideas on poverty issues. I posted (under the nickname everarden - if you can find it). If you go to his site, you will see a link to the blog.

I think I now know how to do links correctly.

No comments:

Post a Comment

What are your thoughts?