Income Inequality and The American Dream

Looks like a few other people have some smart things to say rebutting the condescending Generation Y article that was my last straw. First of all, Adam Weinstein wrote this fantastic article outline how exactly the world is different than it used to be, and why the deck is stacked against people trying to build their careers.

Then, there’s the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Death of an Adjunct, describing how an 83 year old professional woman was driven into poverty by the reprehensible policies of her employer (ostensibly for a greater religious good, I might add).

And on The Daily Show this Monday, Jon Stewart interviewed former Labor Secretary Robert Reich about income inequality, the gutting of the middle class, class warfare, upward mobility, citizen activism, and his new film, Inequality For All. He argues for a living wage for full-time work, and against the idea that the working poor are taking advantage of the absurdly over-paid upper echelon.

And I’d like to add this thought to the mix: We need to do away with the idea that being rich somehow makes a person more valuable, their work more worthwhile, and their life choices more justified. Some of our most important professions are among the least compensated – teachers, social workers, firefighters and police – as well as the people who make our daily existence possible – retail workers, grocery store cashiers, restaurant servers. If a person works full time hours, they should be able to pay rent, buy food, drive a reasonably safe car, and educate their children. And I don’t think that being able to take a week off for the holidays and one in the summer is unreasonable either.

Pundits talk about how a rising tide lifts all boats, but that doesn’t matter one bit if you’re standing on the shore wishing you had a boat to begin with. Right now, we have a structure where a very small percentage of people take home more money than they could ever spend, while masses of people are struggling to meet basic human needs. And that’s something we should really be working to correct, as individuals and as a country. Think about how embarrassed we’re going to be if Doctors Without Borders becomes a primary source of medical care for rural America, or when NGO’s show up to help us dig clean wells because there’s been a cholera outbreak in a bankrupt city. And just to be absolutely clear, I’m not arguing for socialism here. I’m arguing for democracy and against plutocracy. It’s time we did more to live up to our own myth of the American Dream.