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Some of us have said it for years: First you have to care. You have to care that the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots is actually of crisis proportions and growing wider every day. You have to believe that most of the middle class is not among the top 1%, 2% or even 20% of Minnesota’s income earners.
Years ago, surveys showed that some of the poorest among us were convinced by the marketers and pundits that they were among the top 20% or 30% of wealth-owners, even as they were losing ground in real income, losing their health and pension benefits, being laid off in record numbers to watch as their jobs went off-shore with no penalties attached (but actually rewarded with tax breaks) and older workers scrounging for even part-time jobs paying minimum, not living wage jobs with no benefits. Then, there’s the loss in property values and the need for higher taxes just to maintain our fractured infrastructure.
It’s in the nature of our culture, now, that people need to believe themselves better off than “those people” suffering poverty or near-poverty living conditions, watching their fewer and fewer dollars lose ground to inflation – real income, it’s called – and reduced value of their money while paying out higher and higher costs for health care and food. And, yet, that psychological trap is killing us.
New studies not only attach all of these dynamics to some serious supporting data, but warn us about the pending disasters that could well occur if such continued economic inequality sticks with us and we don’t get our heads out of the sand about where each of us in middle-class circumstances actually sits along the income and to see the real harm increasing poverty is doing to disrupt society and threaten massive divisions as the rich get richer and the poor can no longer focus their attention on anything but survival. At any cost. It’s in the nature of all animals that survival comes first.
Will policymakers stop pandering to the self-deception and start putting the singular effort needed to turn these trends around before the complete collapse of the economy and descent into chaos? The numbers are there, sometimes in the driest of terms, but serious numbers, nonetheless. Moreover, one study confirms the paralysis of those in poverty to focus their decision-making in favor of improving themselves and making better choices for their behavior. How can anything go well for people whose cognitive functions are seriously, perhaps fatally impaired by their poverty?
TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI query three long-term observers of the economic malaise and growing inequality, including one author of one of the more prominent studies – that of Growth & Justice’s showing the serious dimensions of this issue – “Widening Economic Inequality in Minnesota: Causes, Effects, and a Proposal for Estimating Its Impact in Policymaking”.
Thomas Legg, PhD (Applied Economics) – Professor of Finance, Carlson School of Management, UofM; Researcher, Co-Author, Growth&Justice Report: “Widening Economic Inequality in Minnesota: Causes, Effects, and a Proposal for Estimating Its Impact in Policymaking,”
Brianna Halverson – Director, Minnesota Branch, Working America.
Tom O’Connell, PhD – Professor Emeritus of Political Studies at Metropolitan State University