Materialism in the United States is almost a given. From people paying hundreds of dollars for an iPhone to the Bush Administration passing tax breaks that help only .1% of the richest Americans, it seems that we’re OK with disparity. The Republican Party clearly has no interest for working-class people, as is evidenced by their opposition to raising the Federal minimum wage law. Yet, people still support the party (and decisions like these).
Pew Research reports in A Nation of “Haves” and “Have-Nots”? that more Americans are starting to identify the disparity in the United States. An excerpt:
The increased prevalence of both views — that the country is increasingly divided along economic lines and that a given individual is on the wrong side of that divide — finds support in national economic data. As numerous studies have demonstrated in recent years, income gains over the last few decades have been heavily concentrated at the very top of the income distribution. For example, in an update of their earlier study of long-term U.S. income trends,1 economists Piketty and Saez compute that the share of income going to families in the top 1% of the income scale has doubled from 8% in 1980 to 16% in 2004 even excluding capital gains.2 (For a review of other recent studies see an earlier Pew commentary, “Pinched Pocketbooks: Do Average Americans Spot Something That Most Economists Miss?“3)
While it’s a fairly foreign concept in the U.S., maintaining a middle class is vital to ensuring economic and political stability. The emergence of a middle class is one of the primary drivers that moves a country from a Third World status to a superior level. I wonder, though, how quickly we can perform that task in reverse. Hopefully, we’ll realize that the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, is increasing the gap between rich and poor rather than normalizing it.