Economic Inequality in the US: Land of Inopportunity

In our country, the average annual income for the top 1% is $27,342,212. The bottom 90 percent, meanwhile, make an average of $31,244. There is a division in quality of life for these two groups. These numbers mean the difference between owning cars and having to take public transportation; between being able to afford private tutors and having to work jobs while in high school; and, ultimately, between whether or not you have access to opportunity. The socioeconomic class you are in significantly and directly impacts what opportunities you have access to in educational, occupational and familial roles.

The effects of economic inequality in the US become apparent from the time we’re in school. Imagine two children going to two different schools: one public and one private. Consider how each are generalized. Public schools are characterized as underfunded and crowded, whereas private schools are exalted as these places that will raise the standards and truly teach your children. Children are sent to public school because it is the default – other children are sent to private school because it will help them succeed later in life. According to the US Department of Education, the child going to private school has a 24 percent higher chance of going to a four-year college. Going to college in and of itself gives you further access to opportunities. Furthermore, the US Department of Education’s data also shows that only 10 percent of students are in private schools. This demonstrates that education with better access to the things that lead to success in life, such as college, is in itself limited in access.

Socioeconomic inequalities are especially prevalent within the workplace and within one’s own family. According to Economist Linda Datcher Loury, around 50 percent of jobs are obtained through family, friends or acquaintances. Consider the difference in family, friends and acquaintances of somebody from a upper-class family versus those of somebody from a lower-class or middle-class family – they would be working higher paying jobs and, ultimately, have better connections. Additionally, taxes cause middle and lower-class families to spend more of their money on taxes than upper-class families. According to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the bottom 20 percent income group on average spends 10.9 percent of their family income on taxes. The top 1% income group spends 5.4 percent.

One might say that you should assume personal responsibility for your education and your occupation – that if you are jobless or without a college degree, it is your fault, point blank. The reality is that life is not that black and white, and there are a variety of factors that get in the way of the typical rags-to-riches story we’ve come to know and love.

Opportunity is a difficult thing to come by when it is time and time again moved out of your reach. So, if the bottom 90 percent do not have equal opportunity, how can we do anything to change it? What is the first step in trying to even out the playing field? A problem we have in doing this is that we have a tendency to blame each other, as opposed to grouping together. We view one another as competition, instead of seeing how we are all in varying degrees of the same situation.