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Widening inequality gap undermining “American Dream”

In his Feb. 22 opinion piece, “The Inequality Illusion,” Keith Yost conveniently glosses over many underlying issues associated with wealth inequality. While it is true that the poor are not spending a higher percentage of their income on food than they were twenty years ago, neither are the rich. Those in the top quintile will still have a larger pool of disposable income in absolute terms, which can be used to accumulate wealth. As Yost pointed out, they might be inclined to leave this wealth to specific groups, often their family. However, Yost chose not to address the clear question that follows this argument; namely, does increased income inequality and concentration of wealth lead to lower income mobility? It is hard to answer this directly, but a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston indicated that over the period 1967–2004, income mobility was generally declining.

How can you reach the top income quintile? Certainly hard work or inventiveness might matter, but the best strategy is to be born there. According to a study by Lisa Keister of Duke University, 55 percent of those children born to parents in the uppermost quintile would remain there in adulthood, while less than 5 percent of those born in the lowest quintile would reach that level by adulthood.

The traditional foundation of the “American dream” rests on our country’s high level of social mobility and the idea that anyone, from any background, can achieve success. As we widen the gap between the very rich and very poor, we may be undermining this foundation. The successes of the past are not guaranteed to continue in the future, and despite what Yost claims, income inequality is not a topic which can simply be ignored when making policy decisions.

Irene Brockman G