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Commentary :: Globalization
Inequality in America: version 2.0
26 Oct 2005
Fall is inequality season. Every autumn, as the leaves change color, we get a vivid new picture of the trends that pull us apart as a country.

This year is no different. But after almost three decades of incrementally widening disparities of wealth and income, it¹s worth noting that we¹ve entered a new version of economic apartheid, American-style. Let’s call it Inequality 2.0.

The United States is now the third most unequal industrialized society after Russia and Mexico. This is not a club we want to be part of. Russia is a recovering kleptocracy, with a post-Soviet oligarchy enriched by looting. And Mexico, despite joining the rich-nations club of the Organization for Economic and Community Development, has some of the most glaring poverty in the hemisphere.
In 2004, after three years of economic recovery, the U.S. Census reports that poverty continues to grow, while the real median income for fulltime workers has declined. Since 2001, when the economy hit bottom, the ranks of our nation¹s poor have grown by 4 million, and the number of people without health insurance has swelled by 4.6 million to over 45 million.

Income inequality is now near all-time highs, with over 50 percent of 2004 income going to the top fifth of households, and the biggest gains going to the top 5 percent and 1 percent of households. The average CEO now takes home a paycheck 431 times that of their average worker.

At the pinnacle of U.S. wealth, 2004 saw a dramatic increase in the number of billionaires. According to Forbes Magazine, there are now 374 U.S. billionaires. The growth in billionaires took a dramatic leap since the early 1980s, when the average net worth of the individuals on the Forbes 400 list was $400 million. Today, the average net worth is $2.8 billion. Wal-Mart¹s Walton family now has 771,287 times more than the median U.S. household.

Does inequality matter? One problem is that concentrations of wealth and power pose a danger to our democratic system. The corruption of politics by big money might explain why for the last five years the President and Congress have been more interested in repealing the federal estate tax, paid only by multi-millionaires, than on reinforcing levees along the Gulf Coast.

Now, to pay for hurricane reconstruction and the war in Iraq, Congress is considering cuts in programs that help poor people, such as Medicaid and food stamps. They have not yet considered fairer ways of reducing the deficit by reversing special tax breaks for the rich, such as the recent cuts in capital gains and dividend taxes.

Inequality is non-partisan. The pace of inequality has grown steadily over three decades, under both Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses. The Gini index, the global measure of inequality, grew as quickly under President Clinton as it has under President George W. Bush. Widening disparities in the U.S. are the result of three decades of bi-partisan public policies that have tilted the rules of the economy to the benefit of major corporations and large asset owners at the expense of people whose security comes from a paycheck.

Public policies in trade, taxes, wages and social spending can make a difference in mitigating national and global trends toward prolonged inequality. But our priorities are moving in the wrong direction.

For example, the failure to raise the minimum wage from its 1997 level of $5.15 an hour guarantees continued income stagnation for the working poor for years to come. The President and Congress¹s focus on tax cuts for the wealthy and their disinterest in government spending to expand equal opportunity sets the stage for Inequality Version 3.0.

We shouldn¹t tolerate this drift toward an economic apartheid society.


Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel are co-authors of the new book, "Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity" (The New Press). Yeskel is co-director of Class Action ( Collins is Senior Fellow at United for a Fair Economy (
See also:

This work is in the public domain.
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Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
26 Oct 2005
the majority of vets are getting invisable health care, (no documentation of problems untill critical) i imagine that the poor have the same problem. meanwhile congress and the prez are getting the top flight stuff . to close to home to add more
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
27 Oct 2005
Why are we listening to these privileged white upper class jerks? Collins has "struggled" with all the wealth he inherited. Poor baby. Hopefully years of caring psychotherapy have healed his trauma and psychic wounds at being born wealthy. Rich white upper class turd. Go suck up to the power elite and make the social movement crawl on its belly, groveling for foundation money to "rethink" its position and strategies on confronting neoliberalism and imperialism. Nice the way Collins helped get rid of the global economy program at UFE because it did not fit in the best strategic or organizational with responsible wealth program. Or, becasue he has no global analysis of resistance to neoliberalism and just wants to tinker with the system and put a happy smiley face on neoliberal captialism, he helped close downa program that challenged his reformist, liberal, Democratic party boot licking tendencies. I'd rather be recruiting millionaries to teh struggle could be their rallying cry
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
28 Oct 2005
Poor? We have the richest poor people in the world! Just take a drive by any housing project and you'll AC's, cars and big screen TV's everywhere. Stop your damn whining.
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
28 Oct 2005
"Poor? We have the richest poor people in the world! Just take a drive by any housing project and you'll AC's, cars and big screen TV's everywhere. Stop your damn whining. "

We have the richest poor people in the world only in a sense that the rest of the world has been fucked up and dominated by global colonialism for the last 500+ years. And just a word to the wise - there's a socio-economic term called a "Quality of Life" or a "Standard of Living" that varies from country to country. In THIS country, many people who live in housing projects are so poor that the state is literally helping them while they better their economic position. In the states, our "welfare" system is a joke - Most of Europe's welfare system, described as the "dole" by folks over there, was put in place years ago and will truly sustain a person for their entire life in relative comfort. In this country, folks who are on welfare only receive it for a short amount of time, or for the duration of their childraising years, or because they are unable to get above the poverty level in a system that is fundamentally warped to begin with.

I suggest this website as a good source of information about Standards of Living and per capita income - - as you can see, the United States may be the richest country in the world, but it isn't even in the top 30 when it comes to actual par capita equality. Want to know who's actually able to deal with the problem of inequality? Countries like Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands and practically all of Europe. Gosh!

In this country, owning a car or having an air conditioner and a television are not a sign of wealth. They are basic services that are the norm in this country. If people who are living in the Projects were eating Caviar, and sending their children to fancy private schools, and are worried about their 401k retirement plans, they would be rich. By todays standards they are definitely poor. Inequality is alive and kicking in the U.S. of A..
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
28 Oct 2005
RiotGrrl writes "In this country, owning a car or having an air conditioner and a television are not a sign of wealth. They are basic services that are the norm in this country. If people who are living in the Projects were eating Caviar, and sending their children to fancy private schools, and are worried about their 401k retirement plans, they would be rich." They may be the norm, but they are certainly not necessities. I grew up in the city. I didn't have an air conditioner until I moved out of my parents' house. We didn't live in the projects nor we were on welfare so my parents paid for their own electricity and consequently could not afford an air conditioner. Likewise, I did not have a car until I went to college and could buy a shit box for 500 bucks that I made working in a sweat shop over the summer. I didn't go to a fancy private school either. Perhaps if my parents had not been taxed to death, or if there had been such a thing as school choice, I could have gone to a fancy private school. However, the liberals in power in Massachusetts were and still are kissing the feet of the public school teachers union (MTA) that so generously lines the Democrat party's campaign coffers. So I'm tired about hearing the poor whining. I was once poor. I am no longer so.
Sitting on the Horse
28 Oct 2005
I sorry your parents couldn't afford to send you to private school, but even though my parents were able to send my sisters and I, My PARENTS STILL PAID THE SAME TAXES as yours! Get over the concept of helping people and socialism. If everyone forgot about their stupid selves (myself included) things would be a lot more cheerful.
Charity is something we all should strive for.
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
28 Oct 2005
Well, then I'm sure that you would agree that the public education system as we know it is full of inequity. Wht should your parents pay twice if the choice is a good education (by your parents' standards) or a bad education?
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
29 Oct 2005
News flash RiotGrrl...there will always be inequality. Why? Because you are dealing with human beings, plain and simple. Everytime that people try to "make the playing field even", it end sin disaster. The government does not have an obligation to take care of people. Those European nations that continue to do so are finding more difficult to maintain such a socialist structure.
People need to be accountable for their own actions, stop their damn whinning, get off their ass and go to work. I for one, am sick and tired of supporting deadbeats. I grew up in a house that used a coal stove all winter long for heat. I never ate caviar nor went on vacations. I rode my bicycle everywhere because i couldn't afford a car or insurnace. I worked hard, studied even harder and seized the bull by the horns and made something of my life. Not too mention being the first person in my family to graduate from college. Yes, I paid for it out of my pocket while working crappy jobs and all kinds of weird hours. I wasn't eligable for any type of scholarship or grants. You know what, it made me appreciate it that much better. If I can do it, anyone can. Its one thing to help someone who is having a rouch patch, but to carry people for life or generations, well, the hell with them. This country is full of too many crybabies who have had mommy and daddy do everything for them. We've raised a generation of pussies.
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
31 Oct 2005
"In this country, owning a car or having an air conditioner and a television are not a sign of wealth. They are basic services that are the norm in this country. "

Relative poverty is meaningless in the richest country in the history of the world. Television, cars, and air conditioning are not "basic services".They're luxuries.

The poorest people in the US are still better off than 90% of the people who have ever existed in history. Half the world's population lives off less than $1 a day (accounting for purchasing parity).

Go visit the developing world sometime. You'll see some real poverty.
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
02 Nov 2005
Correction: 20% -not half- the world's population lives on less than $1 a day, and another 20% live on less than $2 per day -- but that's still obscene, so the gist of the point about global "absolute" as opposed to "relative" poverty is absolutely correct and, of course, indefensible, as is the "relative" and indeed, a smattering of "absolute" poverty in this inequitable society. However, cars, ACs, TVs are not necessities.The nation was here many years before these existed and technology and consumption and poverty need to be assessed in relation to their impact not only on human populations but relatively -and absolutely- to the biosphere and the many other species that inhabit this fragile planet. In that sense, "voluntary poverty" i.e. voluntary simplicity can be a good thing. The impact on the enviornment of one American middle class consumer can be ten times as great as that of a peasant villager in certain "developing countries". What is really required is a radical rethink on the pursuit of wealth and unchecked 'consumerism'. If everyone on the planet had a car and AC and consumed the way even "relatively" affluent consumers in the overdeleoped countries do, the planet would be strained to the breaking point. Resource wars are not far off. Do we really need those monstrous SUVs and gargantuan refrigerators? Addressing wealth inequality needs to proceed from both directions, by raising everyone out of absolute poverty and concomitantly lowering the accumulation of wealth and standard of living, i.e. excessive consumption, of the "relatively rich". Until we overcome untrammeled greed and unbridled consumerism we'll all be the poorer for it. Our greatest asset is our overstrained envviornment.
Blame Corporate Greed
09 Nov 2005
Greed is the poors enemy. Middle class too. Share the wealth.
Clean the planet.
Simple. Right?
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
09 Nov 2005
No. It's actually pretty stupid. Why should I share my wealth with ANYONE who has not earned it? What do you mean by "clean the planet?" Sounds like a hallmark card.
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
10 Nov 2005
Sid, did you "earn" the opportunity to be born the US? Did you earn the opportunity to be born in realitively wealthy family?
The problem is not the poor lazy bums asking for a little bread, its the rich lazy bums who demand caviar and steak, while the rest of the world begs for grain. there is plently for man's need but not enough for man's greed.
I mean your philosophy seems to be, "let the poor bastards starve and if they put up a fight, bomb them." Do you honestly think the migrant workers who walk here from Mexico to get jobs are lazy? Most poor people work a lot, but the economy is stacked against them. Duh?
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
10 Nov 2005
Actually, bored, my grandparents earned the right for me to be born in the US by showing enough sense to legally immigrate from Europe. I apparently didn't earn the right to be born into a relatively wealth family as I was born into a poor family by American standards. If you wnat to talk about bombing poor bastards just ask Bill Clinton about his 79 days of bombing the poor bastards in Kosovo. I agree with you that tjr ,igrant workers from Mexico who illegally enter the United States are not lazy. They are simply criminals.
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
11 Nov 2005
In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.

Theodore Roosevelt 1907
Re: Inequality in America: version 2.0
26 Nov 2005
All wealth is social wealth. Built from countless generations working, building and inventing. All resources come from the land and it should be every humans birthright to share in its abundance, to share also in the wealth of human knowledge and invention. Without others we are nothing.