The Herald Bulletin

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Editorials

January 31, 2014

Editorial: Growing wealth gap in U.S. must be addressed

The gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States has widened in recent years, while here in Madison County more folks are falling into poverty.

It’s time to do something about it.

How much is the distribution of wealth changing? Consider these statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau:

u Income for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans skyrocketed by 31 percent from 2009 to 2012. Meanwhile, for the other 99 percent of us, income edged upward by less than 1 percent.

u The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans earned 23 percent of the income in 2012.

u Median income, reflective of the middle class’ plight, fell from its 1999 peak of $56,080 (adjusted for inflation) to $51,017 by 2012.

u Closer to home, the number of Hoosiers living in poverty rose from about 740,000 in 2005 to 990,000 in 2012.

u And, most strikingly for local folks, the number of food stamp recipients in Madison County grew from 15,237 in 2007 to 22,248 in 2012.

Some would argue that people get what they work for, that anyone can become rich and, conversely, anyone can become poor. After all, it is America.

While these simple precepts still hold true, there’s no denying that the laws of the land, increasingly, have helped the rich become obscenely wealthy while offering considerably less opportunity to the poor.

In today’s America, wealth — more than hard work — begets wealth.

The problem extends beyond the individual’s ability to get ahead financially; it’s also a macro-economic issue. Basically, the extremely rich tend to hold on to their money when the economy sours. The middle class and the poor? They have to spend, regardless. So, if the wealth is concentrated too much in the hands of the richest of the rich, the economy is slower to rise from a decline.

What can be done about it?

Well, first of all, loopholes that enable the rich to shield their income from taxes should be closed. Another step in the right direction would be a hike in the minimum wage (currently $7.75; President Obama has proposed raising it to $10.10) to assure that working Americans can earn enough to afford necessities.

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