Reducing Poverty, Economic Inequality Should be a Top Priority

Jan 26, 2012

By Drew Haverly

Last year, the words economic inequality and poverty made it into more news stories fueled in part by the weak economy as well as the Occupy movement.

With one in three Americans either poor or low-income and with the 2012 presidential elections on the horizon, it is a crucial time to make poverty part of the public debate. In fact, polls show 72 percent of Americans believe taxes for the wealthy should be raised and 88 percent say candidates' positions on reducing poverty is important in deciding their vote. It's clear that the public wants an agenda for 2012 and beyond that addresses issues of income inequality and overall fairness in the tax code.

As of 2010, the top 10 percent of U.S. households held 71.5 percent of the nation's wealth while the bottom 50 percent received just 2.5 percent.  Moreover, in the 28 years from 1979 to 2007, the top 1 percent of U.S. citizens experienced 275 percent growth in income, whereas incomes for the remaining 99 percent grew just 40 percent over the same period.

These significant gaps and continuing divergent trends in economic growth do not bode well for a solid and growing middle class, which has been a source of national pride for so long. In a study conducted by Stanford University, the number of people living in middle-income neighborhoods dropped from 65 percent in 1970 to 44 percent in 2007, the last year in which data was collected for the study.

And while economic inequality has been growing for more than 30 years now, stories about poverty and the role public policy plays in alleviating poverty were few and far between until recently. But now, as more are falling into poverty and people are actively protesting inequities, policymakers are beginning to pay attention. While lacking in leadership and a clear vision, the lasting legacy of the Occupy movement will be that it moved the media and our political leaders to talk more publicly about rising economic inequality.

Financial expert Suze Orman said on Remaking America: From Poverty to Prosperity, "There's a highway into poverty, and now there's not even a sidewalk out." It is time for our nation's leaders to pave some highways in the right direction and bring back the faith in the American dream.

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