U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 12, 2013. The president laid out an ambitious second term agenda, but saved his best for last with an impassioned plea for gun control.
Credit: Reuters

Why can't America unite on the economy?

Our response in the face of tragedy is inspiring. If only we cared as much about addressing income inequality


Robert Reich
April 18, 2013 5:57PM (UTC)

We come together as Americans when confronting common disasters and common threats, such as occurred in Boston on Monday, but we continue to split apart economically.

Anyone who wants to understand the dis-uniting of America needs to see how dramatically we’re segregating geographically by income and wealth. Today I’m giving a Town Hall talk in Fresno, in the center of California’s Central Valley, where the official unemployment rate is 15.4 percent and median family earns under $40,000. The so-called “recovery” is barely in evidence.

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As the crow flies Fresno is not that far from California’s high-tech enclaves of Google, Intel, Facebook, and Apple, or from the entertainment capital of Hollywood, but they might as well be different worlds.

Being wealthy in modern America means you don’t come across anyone who isn’t, and being poor and lower-middle class means you’re surrounded by others who are just as hard up. Upward mobility — the old notion that anyone can make it with enough guts and gumption — is less of a reality.

The probability that a poor child in America will become a poor adult is higher now than it was 30 years ago, and higher in the United States than in the United Kingdom, which has a long history of class rigidity.

Almost 1 out of 4 of the nation’s children is in now in poverty, but you wouldn’t know that in Washington, where our representatives are now busily cutting safety nets children depend on, or in many state capitals that continue to slash budgets for education and social services.

Many of America’s wealthy don’t see why they should pay more taxes to support the less advantaged because they have no idea what it means to be less advantaged, while many in America’s middle class can’t afford to pay more because their real wages continue to decline.

Our thoughts turn to Boston — as they should. But Fresno and other places like it across America remain ignored.

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Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written 15 books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's also co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism."

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