Policy Prescriptions for Growing Income Inequality in the United Statesby Algernon Austin
A Presentation for the Labor and Employment Relations Association, Washington, D.C. Chapter
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Woman's National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
Please contact Lorenzo Di Silvio or by phone at (202) 822-2127 x119 to make a reservation for this meeting. Please make your reservation no later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, April 21. Reservations are on a “first-come, first-served” basis, so please reserve your place promptly as space is limited. An e-mail response is preferred. Sign-in 11:45, luncheon 12:15, program 12:45. $20 for members with reservations, $10 for student members, $25 for non-members and members without reservations.
“Most Americans feel stuck in their tracks,” reports the Pew Research Center. “A majority of adults in this country say that in the past five years they either haven’t moved ahead in life or have fallen backwards. This is the most downbeat assessment of personal progress in nearly a half century of polling by the Pew Research Center and the Gallup Organization.”
This conclusion is based on the new Pew Inside the Middle Class survey that hones in on the views of the American middle class, although people from all class backgrounds were surveyed. Last year, the Pew Research Center released a report showing increased pessimism among blacks. That survey covered many different issues from the new one, so the two surveys are not completely comparable. However, there are some similar questions. The new Pew middle-class study suggests that at least part of the reason for increased pessimism among blacks is due to the fact that Americans generally are more pessimistic about the state of the country.
The average American household earned less in 2006 (the most recent year for Census data) than in 1999 and is in more debt. The American middle class feels that it has to strain more to maintain a middle-class lifestyle and middle-class adults are desperate for more free time. All of these factors lead Americans generally to be more pessimistic.
In some ways blacks seem more pessimistic than whites. This year 40 percent of all Americans said that their lives are better now than five years ago. Last year, only 20 percent of blacks said that blacks are better off now than five years ago. It is important to note that these are different questions. One asks for individuals to assess their own lives another asks for individuals to assess a group. It is also worth noting that both percentages have declined recently. From 2002 to 2008, the percent of Americans saying that their lives are better today declined by 8 percentage points. From 1999 to 2007, 12 percent fewer blacks stated that blacks are better off. It is quite possible that some blacks are saying that blacks are doing worse because they are actually doing worse personally.
In 1986, 57 percent of blacks surveyed stated that they believed that things would be better in the future for blacks. In 2007, the percentage had declined to 44 percent. Was this decline due to a perceived cultural crisis or to the economic downturn? Or both? The new middle-class survey suggests the downturn might be playing a significant role. The black response to the future of blacks matches the national response to the future of America’s children to a surprising degree. See the figure below. (Click on the image for a better view.) This might just be a coincidence, but it seems likely that people who are experiencing economic hardship would be pessimistic about things generally.
Source: Pew Research Center, Inside the Middle Class, p. 42 and Optimism about Black Progress Declines, p. 1.
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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.
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