September 7th, 2010

Alabama has the second biggest gap between rich and poor in the nation, according to a study released in 2008 by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “Pulling Apart: A State-by-State Analysis of Income Trends.” What does that mean? The top 5 percent of wage earners in Alabama make 13.5 percent as much as the poorest 20 percent – combined.

The American Dream was built on the notion of a prosperous middle class, and these statistics show us how that dream is slipping away.  A new series by Timothy Noah at Slate examines this issue: “The United States of Inequality.”

Part 1, “The Great Divergence,” defines the problem. Today, the richest 1 percent of Americans make more than 24 percent of our nation’s income. This slideshow provides some interesting graphs with analysis about what it all means.

The author quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Paul Krugman – not surprising. But then he also quotes Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Chairman and libertarian, who actually has had much to say about the income gap:

“This is not the type of thing which a democratic society—a capitalist democratic society—can really accept without addressing,” Greenspan said in 2005.

Part 2, “The Usual Suspects are Innocent,” describes how the income gap can no longer be blamed on race or gender wage disparities. Nor can it be blamed on single-parent households. “Conventional liberal and conservative explanations about what ails society can neither explain the Great Divergence nor make it go away,” concludes Noah.

We’ll keep reading all this week to see how this discussion progresses.

Do you think the income gap is a problem? Why?

Update: Parts 3-10 have been posted on Slate. Read the entire series:

Posted by Robyn Hyden