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Income Inequality: Too Big to Ignore

Author: Richard A. Frank
October 16, 2010

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This New York Times article by Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, chronicles the growth of inequality since the mid-1970's and examines the social costs corresponding to this increse in income disparity.

PEOPLE often remember the past with exaggerated fondness. Sometimes, however, important aspects of life really were better in the old days.

During the three decades after World War II, for example, incomes in the United States rose rapidly and at about the same rate almost 3 percent a year for people at all income levels. America had an economically vibrant middle class. Roads and bridges were well maintained, and impressive new infrastructure was being built. People were optimistic.

By contrast, during the last three decades the economy has grown much more slowly, and our infrastructure has fallen into grave disrepair. Most troubling, all significant income growth has been concentrated at the top of the scale. The share of total income going to the top 1 percent of earners, which stood at 8.9 percent in 1976, rose to 23.5 percent by 2007, but during the same period, the average inflation-adjusted hourly wage declined by more than 7 percent.

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