Wealth Inequality: Who Knew?
In the UnitedStates, income and wealth inequality are dramatic. The top 20 percent ofwealthy individuals own about 85 percent of the wealth, while thebottom 40 percent own just about 0 percent according to a 2010 analysis by EdwardWolff, a New York University researcher.
Noneother than Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke finds the phenomenon deeplytroubling. Asked about U.S. income disparity in a CBS 60 Minutes interview lastyear, Bernankedeclared “It۪s a very bad development. It۪s creating two societies  Itleads to an unequal society, and a society which doesn’t have the cohesion thatwe’d like to see.”
Thesubject of wealth inequity is gaining attention. Indeed,a website, Inequality.org hasaggregated a list of organizations tackling the topic through analysis,advocacy, and organizing. And periodically, media stories zero in on thesubject. A recent Denver PBSshow explored public attitudes about wealth, the lower level of economic mobilityin the United States compared to other developed nations, and as one gueststated, “the winner takes all” new economy. The program graphicallydemonstrated how income inequality has been growing since the 1980s.
It turnsout that the public is pretty clueless about the facts of U.S. inequality evenas people on both sides of the political aisle want an income distribution thatis vastly different than what we have. A2010 survey of 5,000 Americans found that people are aware that incomeinequality exists in our nation, but they underestimate the extent of the gap.Those polled believe that the bottom 40 percent own 10 percent of the wealthwhen in reality it is closer to 0 percent. Even “more interesting” to theresearchers is that a large majority of Americans whether conservative orliberal, poor or rich want a more equitable distribution of wealth.
It seemsthere needs to be some educating. First, the public needs a greaterappreciation for the realities of income and wealth disparity. Second,policymakers need to be aware that across the political spectrum the publicwants to close the gap.
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