On Poverty, Privilege, and Inequality


Petula Dvorak and Nicholas D. Kristof write about the deep damage done to children growing up poor:

"The no of poverty in kids' lives today means no new clothes, no bed, no sleeping past 5 a.m. or we won't have time to take three buses to get to your school, no telling the guard at the Metro station that we're sleeping there tonight, no after-school tutoring program designed just for you, because, the truth is, we can't afford to get you there and back every day.

This is the daily reality for thousands of our children, especially African American children growing up in the District."
--Petula Dvorak, "The Grinding Reality of Growing Up Poor."

"Pregnant women in low-income areas tend to be more exposed to anxiety, depression, chemicals and toxins from car exhaust to pesticides, and they’re more likely to drink or smoke and less likely to take vitamin supplements, eat healthy food and get meticulous pre-natal care.

The result is children who start life at a disadvantage — for kids facing stresses before birth appear to have lower educational attainment, lower incomes and worse health throughout their lives. If that’s true, then even early childhood education may be a bit late as a way to break the cycles of poverty."
--Nicolas D. Kristof, "At Risk from the Womb."


This summer, the New York Times published an article which attempted to illustrate how difficult the labor market is even for high-achieving students from elite colleges. The article also provided a glimpse into the life of privilege.

The featured student, Scott Nicholson, had "no college debt (his grandparents paid all his tuition and board)." His father and grandfather were able to get jobs because they knew the right people.

They said it was connections more than perseverance that got them started — the father in 1976 when a friend who had just opened a factory hired him, and the grandfather in 1946 through an Army buddy whose father-in-law owned a brokerage firm in nearby Worcester and needed another stock broker.

From these accidental starts, careers unfolded and lasted. David Nicholson, now the general manager of a company that makes tools, is still in manufacturing. William Nicholson spent the next 48 years, until his retirement, as a stock broker. “Scott has got to find somebody who knows someone,” the grandfather said, “someone who can get him to the head of the line.”

Few Americans, and even fewer black Americans, have had access to this level of wealth and job connections in their family.

and Inequality: America on the Way to a Becoming a Banana Republic

Steven Pearlstein on "The Costs of Rising Income Inequality."

If you asked Americans how much of the nation's pretax income goes to the top 10 percent of households, it is unlikely they would come anywhere close to 50 percent, which is where it was just before the bubble burst in 2007. That's according to groundbreaking research by economists Thomas Piketty, of the Paris School of Economics, and Emmanuel Saez, of the University of California at Berkeley, who last week won one of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants.

It wasn't always that way. From World War II until 1976, considered by many as the "golden years" for the U.S. economy, the top 10 percent of the population took home less than a third of the income generated by the private economy. But since then, according to Saez and Piketty, virtually all of the benefits of economic growth have gone to households that, in today's terms, earn more than $110,000 a year.

Even within that top "decile," the distribution is remarkably skewed. By 2007, the top 1 percent of households took home 23 percent of the national income after a 15-year run in which they captured more than half - yes, you read that right, more than half - of the country's economic growth. As Tim Noah noted recently in a wonderful series of articles in Slate, that's the kind of income distribution you'd associate with a banana republic or a sub-Saharan kleptocracy, not the world's oldest democracy and wealthiest market economy.