American inequality: Worse than Europe

In an op-ed, Joseph Stiglitz writes that the U.S. has less social mobility than most industrial nations

Topics: AlterNet, class, U.S. Economy, Inequality, Social Mobility,

American inequality: Worse than Europe (Credit: ventdusud via Shutterstock)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

President Obama still fervently believes in the ideal of equality of opportunity, as his State of the Union speech showed. But the nation he’s leading has left that ideal far behind.
AlterNet
Nobel laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz laid out why that ideal has been left behind and what the U.S. can do about it in an opinion piece for the New York Times that ran over the weekend. Stiglitz writes that today, the U.S. has less “equality of opportunity” than other advanced industrial nations. This means that poor children have less of an opportunity to be successful than middle and upper-class children. “The life prospects of an American are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in almost any other advanced country for which there is data,” says Stiglitz.

Social mobility is limited in the U.S. 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners in the country move out of that economic strata–a rate lower than most of Europe.

Part of the reason why this is the case is due to discrimination, writes Stiglitz. Latinos, women and African-Americans are still paid less than white male Americans. But this is a small part of the problem. A much bigger problem is the U.S.’s vastly unequal education system.

“After 1980, the poor grew poorer, the middle stagnated, and the top did better and better. Disparities widened between those living in poor localities and those living in rich suburbs — or rich enough to send their kids to private schools,”notes Stiglitz. “A result was a widening gap in educational performance — the achievement gap between rich and poor kids born in 2001 was 30 to 40 percent larger than it was for those born 25 years earlier.” Other forces that fuel America’s inequality include the poor being more exposed to environmental hazards and being less likely to experience enriching activities like music, as well as lacking proper nutrition.

College, too, is part of the problem. Students are faced with crushing loan debt while getting an education remains important to obtaining a job.



So what is to be done? Stiglitz says that without changes to these policies that fuel inequality of opportunity, “the image we project to the world, will diminish — and so will our economic standing and stability. Inequality of outcomes and inequality of opportunity reinforce each other — and contribute to economic weakness.” But there are options to pursue to stop this trend.

Mothers should be able to reduce their exposure to environmental hazards, get prenatal health care and have the option of sending their children to pre-kindergarten education. Access to higher education is also imperative.

“A more educated population yields greater innovation, a robust economy and higher incomes — which mean a higher tax base,” the economist writes. “Those benefits are, of course, why we’ve long been committed to free public education through 12th grade. But while a 12th-grade education might have sufficed a century ago, it doesn’t today. Yet we haven’t adjusted our system to contemporary realities.”

Alex Kane is a staff reporter at Mondoweiss and the World editor at AlterNet. His work has also appeared in The Daily Beast, the Electronic Intifada, Extra! and Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>