Friday, January 29, 2010

Income and Wealth Inequality Is Literally Killing Us

You have probably seen this before, but these facts should be front and center in any discussion of economics. British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett recently wrote a book which shows that societies with highly unequal income and wealth distributions – and the United States is one of the worst – are marked by significantly worse health and social outcomes: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment rates, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage births, and child well-being.
This same dynamic, Wilkinson and Pickett show in their new book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, is operating on all our most basic yardsticks of social decency. On everything from homicides and teen pregnancies to drug addiction and levels of trust, people living in more equal nations do better — from three to 10 times better — than people in societies where treasure tilts to the top.

The Alternet article quoted above notes this recent factoid:
The 32,500 souls fortunate enough to work at Wall Street banking giant Goldman Sachs will pocket an average $498,153 for their labors in 2009. Their total compensation for the year, $16.2 billion, runs $3.3 billion more than the pay that went the year before to the 207,315 teachers who staff New York state’s public schools.

That’s the entire state’s school teachers, not just New York City’s.

The data from epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett remind us that gaps like these have consequences: they translate into ever-higher levels of stress and insecurity in nearly every corner of our daily lives. This economic insecurity assaults more than just our household finances. Over time, the chronic stress it causes actually wears down our immune systems. Our epic inequality, in essence, is quite literally killing us.

DailyKos diarist Geomoo last night also included the work of Wilkinson and Pickett in a diary that was “rescued.” Geomoo focuses more on Harvard professor Elizabeth’s Warren’s shocking June 2007 presentation to the UC Berkeley Graduate Council Lectures on the imminent collapse of America’s middle class. If you have not seen Warren's lecture, Geomoo provides an excellent summary.

It would help push the debate forward in the United States to begin candidly admitting that the working class has already been destroyed: the United States today is one of only two countries in the world where citizens aged 25–34 have attained less education than their parents' generation. The stagnation of wages over the past three decades is also well known. Men in their 30s today earn less than their fathers did at the same age.

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