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

Topics: RobertReich.org, economy, California, Google, Intel, Facebook, Apple, ,

Why can't America unite on the economy?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

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.

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.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie "Inequality for All" is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

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