Income Inequality News ArticlesExcerpts of key news articles on income inequality
Around the developed world consumers seem to be losing their appetite for more. Even goods for which there once seemed insatiable demand seem to be losing their lustre. At a Guardian Sustainable Business debate, Steve Howard, head of Ikea’s sustainability unit, declared: “In the west, we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar ... peak home furnishings.” The average western consumers’ home is bulging with all the materials and goods it needs. Only in developing countries have consumers the capacity to want more, but as Howard accepted, for that they need buying power, which in turn rests on the global distribution of income and wealth being fairer. Economist Tomas Sedlacek, who has won an international following for his book Economics of Good and Evil, insists that [most people today] work in jobs they do not much like, to buy goods they do not much value – the opposite of any idea of the good life. What we want is purpose and a sense of continual self-betterment, which is not served by buying another iPhone, wardrobe or a kitchen. Yet purpose and betterment need a social context: purpose is a shared endeavour and self-betterment is to act on the world better with others. The New Economics Foundation has developed a matrix of five key performance measures to get beyond indicators of “stuff” such as GDP: job quality, wellbeing, health, environment and fairness. These are the categories we should measure and track.
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The very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists. All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign. Operating largely out of public view - in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service - the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans. Two decades ago ... the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012 ... that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually. Some of the biggest current tax battles are being waged by some of the most generous supporters of 2016 candidates. Whatever tax rates Congress sets, the actual rates paid by the ultra-wealthy tend to fall over time as they exploit their numerous advantages.
Note: The IRS now conducts only half as many audits of the super-rich as it did five years ago. Over half of the money contributed so far to 2016 US presidential candidates has come from just 158 families. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on government corruption and income inequality from reliable major media sources.
Much of the national debate about widening inequality ... ignores the upward redistributions going on every day, from the rest of us to the rich. These redistributions are hidden inside the market. The only way to stop them is to prevent big corporations and Wall Street banks from rigging the market. For example, Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals than do the citizens of any other developed nation. This costs you and me an estimated $3.5 billion a year - a hidden upward redistribution of our incomes to Pfizer, Merck and other big proprietary drug companies. Likewise, the interest we pay on ... loans is higher than it would be if the big banks ... had to work harder to get our business. As recently as 2000, America’s five largest banks held 25 percent of all U.S. banking assets. Now they hold 44 percent — which gives them a lock on many such loans. The net result: another hidden upward redistribution. Why have food prices been rising faster than inflation, while crop prices are now at a six-year low? Because the giant corporations that process food have the power to raise prices. Result: a redistribution from average consumers to Big Agriculture. Why do you suppose health insurance is costing us more? Health insurers are hiking rates 20 to 40 percent next year, and their stock values are skyrocketing. Add it up - the extra money we’re paying for pharmaceuticals, Internet communications, home mortgages, student loans, airline tickets, food and health insurance - and you get a hefty portion of the average family’s budget.
Note: This essay was written by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing income inequality news articles from reliable major media sources.
American Indians are more likely than any other racial group to be killed by the police, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which studied police killings from 1999 to 2011. But apart from media outlets like Indian Country Today, almost no attention is paid to this pattern of violence against already devastated peoples. When it comes to American Indians, mainstream America suffers from willful blindness. Economic and health statistics, as well as police-violence statistics, shed light on the pressures on American Indian communities and individuals: Indian youths have the highest suicide rate of any United States ethnic group. Adolescent women have suicide rates four times the rate of white women in the same age group. Indians suffer from an infant mortality rate 60 percent higher than that of Caucasians. At the root of much of this is economic inequality: Indians are the poorest people in the United States. Today’s avoidable tragedies of oppressed Indian lives and troubled deaths remain far too often in the shadows. At this moment, when black Americans are speaking up against systemic police violence, and their message is finally being carried by virtually every major news source, it’s time we also pay attention to a less visible but similarly targeted minority: the people who lived here for many thousands of years before this country was founded, and who also have an unalienable right to respect and justice.
They are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago. The 158 families each contributed $250,000 or more in the campaign through June 30. An additional 200 families gave more than $100,000. Together, the two groups contributed well over half the money in the presidential election - the vast majority of it supporting Republicans. “The campaign finance system is now a countervailing force to the way the actual voters of the country are evolving and the policies they want,” said Ruy Teixeira, a political and demographic expert. The donor families’ wealth reflects, in part, the vast growth of the financial-services sector and the boom in oil and gas. They are also the beneficiaries of political and economic forces that are driving widening inequality. Together, the [energy and finance] industries accounted for well over half of the cash contributed by the top 158 families.
Note: What does it mean for democracy when billionaire oligarchs have their own political party? For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing elections news articles from reliable major media sources. Then explore the excellent, reliable resources provided in our Elections Information Center.
The Dutch city of Utrecht ... has paired up with the local university to establish whether the concept of 'basic income' can work in real life, and plans to begin the experiment at the end of the summer holidays. Basic income is a universal, unconditional form of payment to individuals, which covers their living costs. The concept is to allow people to choose to work more flexible hours in a less regimented society, allowing more time for care, volunteering and study. University College Utrecht has paired with the city to place people on welfare on a living income, to see if a system of welfare without requirements will be successful. The Netherlands as a country is no stranger to less traditional work environments - it has the highest proportion of part time workers in the EU, 46.1 per cent. However, Utrecht's experiment with welfare is expected to be the first of its kind in the country. Alderman for Work and Income Victor Everhardt: "One group ... will have compensation and consideration for an allowance, another group with a basic income without rules and of course a control group which adhere to the current rules. Our data shows that less than 1.5 percent abuse the welfare. What happens if someone gets a monthly amount without rules and controls? Will someone sitting passively at home or do people develop themselves and provide a meaningful contribution to our society?"
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At any given time, roughly 480,000 people sit in America's local jails awaiting their day in court, according to an estimate by the International Centre for Prison Studies. These are people who have been charged with a crime, but not convicted. They remain innocent in the eyes of the law. Three quarters of them ... are nonviolent offenders, arrested for traffic violations, or property crimes, or simple drug possession. Many will be found innocent and have their charges dropped completely. Defendants who [are] detained before trial [wait] a median of 68 days in jail. Many ... are forced to wait simply because they can't afford to post bail. A 2013 analysis by the Drug Policy Alliance ... found that nearly 40 percent of New Jersey's jail population fell into this category. People sit behind bars not because they're dangerous, or because they're a flight risk, but simply because they can't come up with the cash. A recent analysis by the Vera Institute ... found that 41 percent of New York City's inmates were sitting in jail on a misdemeanor charge because they couldn't meet a bail of $2,500 or less. For low income people, the consequences of a pre-trial detention, even a brief one, can be disastrous. And in many cases, these people will eventually be found to be innocent. Some civil rights reformers [argue] that bail policies are tantamount to locking people up for being poor. We spend somewhere in the ballpark of $17 billion dollars annually to keep innocent people locked up as they await trial.
The chairman of the venerable Gallup research and polling firm says the official U.S. unemployment rate is really an underestimation and a “big lie" perpetuated by the White House, Wall Street and the media. What CEO and Chairman Jim Clifton revealed in his blog Tuesday about how the Labor Department arrives at the monthly unemployment rate is no secret -- including that Americans who have quit looking for work after four weeks are not included in the survey. The department's current rate of 5.6 percent unemployment is the lowest since June 2008, with President Obama using his State of the Union address and campaign-style stops across the country to tout an economic recovery. “There's no other way to say this,” Clifton says. “The official unemployment rate … amounts to a big lie.” His arguments are similar to those made by Washington Republicans after the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the rate each month during the height of the recession. However, Gallup is an 80-year-old, nonpartisan firm. Clifton suggests the biggest misconception about the official rate is that it doesn’t denote “good” full-time jobs. “When the media, talking heads, the White House and Wall Street start reporting the truth -- the percent of Americans in good jobs; jobs that are full time and real -- then we will quit wondering why Americans aren't ‘feeling’ something that doesn't remotely reflect the reality in their lives. And we will also quit wondering what hollowed out the middle class,” he said.
Note: Read the article by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton showing that the US official unemployment rate of 5.6% is very misleading. Gallup research finds 44% of US citizens available to work are not getting enough work. Fox News was the only media source to report on this story without attacking Clifton for his comments.
The richest 1 percent are likely to control more than half of the globe's total wealth by next year, the charity Oxfam reported in a study released on Monday. The warning about deepening global inequality comes just as the world's business elite prepare to meet this week at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The 80 wealthiest people in the world altogether own $1.9 trillion, the report found, nearly the same amount shared by the 3.5 billion people who occupy the bottom half of the world's income scale. And the richest 1 percent of the population, who number in the millions, control nearly half of the world's total wealth, a share that is also increasing. The type of inequality that currently characterizes the world's economies is unlike anything seen in recent years, the report explained. "Between 2002 and 2010 the total wealth of the poorest half of the world in current U.S. dollars had been increasing more or less at the same rate as that of billionaires," it said. "However since 2010, it has been decreasing over that time." Investors with interests in finance, insurance and health saw the biggest windfalls, Oxfam said. Using data from Forbes magazine's list of billionaires, it said those listed as having interests in the pharmaceutical and health care industries saw their net worth jump by 47 percent. The charity credited those individuals' rapidly growing fortunes in part to multimillion-dollar lobbying campaigns to protect and enhance their interests.
Note: A single ticket to the World Economic Forum event in Davos costs a small fortune. Will the global elites that attend this event pay attention to Oxfam's latest paper, and make it a priority to reduce income inequality?
The [richest] 1% of the world's population will own more global wealth than the 99% [by next year]. Oxfam executive director, Winnie Byanyima, is arguing that this increasing concentration of wealth ... is "bad for growth and bad for governance". What's more, inequality is bad not just for the poor, but for the rich too. That's why we have the likes of the IMF's Christine Lagarde kicking off with warnings about rising inequality. Visceral inequality ... is still seen as somehow being [a] moral failure of the poor. This in turn sustains the idea that rich people deserve their incredible riches. Most wealth, though, is not earned: huge assets, often inherited, simply get bigger [for] deliberate and systemic reasons. Inequality is not inevitable, it's engineered. Many mainstream economists do not question the degree of this engineering. Neoliberalism [has been] a stage of capitalism in which the financial markets were deregulated, public services privatised, welfare systems run down, laws to protect working people dismantled, and unions cast as the enemy. Oxfam's suggestions at Davos are attempts to claw back some basic rights. But isn't it rather incredible that a charity has to do this?
Note: Oxfam's complete report "identifies the two powerful driving forces that have led to the rapid rise in inequality" as "market fundamentalism and the capture of politics by elites." For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing income inequality news articles from reliable major media sources.
Consider the new spending bill Congress and the president agreed to a few weeks ago. Under the $1.1 trillion measure, government spending doesn't rise as a percent of the total economy. If the economy grows as expected, government spending will actually shrink over the next year. The problem with the legislation is who gets the goodies and who's stuck with the tab. Only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families. An increasing portion goes to corporate welfare. In addition to the provisions in the recent spending bill that reward Wall Street, health insurers, the travel industry, food companies and defense contractors, other corporate goodies have long been baked into the federal budget. Big agribusiness gets price supports. Hedge-fund and private-equity managers get their own special "carried-interest" tax loophole. The oil and gas industry gets its special tax subsidies. Big Pharma gets a particularly big benefit: a prohibition on government using its vast bargaining power under Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate low drug prices. The new spending legislation, just enacted, makes it easier for wealthy individuals to write big checks to political parties. Much of government is no longer working for the vast majority it's intended to serve. Unless or until we can reverse the vicious cycle of big money getting political favors that makes big money even bigger, we can't get the government we want and deserve.
According to new research by Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics, the richest one-hundredth of one percent of Americans now hold more than 11 percent of the nation's total wealth. That's a higher share than the top .01 percent held in 1929, before the Great Crash. We're talking about 16,000 people, each worth at least $110 million. This explosion of wealth at the top has been accompanied by an erosion of the wealth of the middle class and the poor. Some might think [that] if those at the top are winning big while the bottom 90 percent is losing, too bad. That's the way the game is played. But the top .01 percent have also been ... changing the game. Their political investments have paid off in the form of lower taxes on themselves and their businesses, subsidies for their corporations, government bailouts, federal prosecutions ... where executives don't go to jail, watered-down regulations, and non-enforcement of antitrust laws. Since the top .01 began investing big time in politics, corporate profits and the stock market have risen to record levels. That's enlarged the wealth of the richest .01 percent. But the bottom 90 percent ... rely on wages, which have been trending downward. Politicians don't seem particularly intent on reversing this trend. If you want to know what's happened to our democracy, follow the richest .01 percent. They'll lead you to the politicians who have been selling our democracy.
Note: For more along these lines, see these summaries of deeply revealing income inequality news articles.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010 tossed aside decades of legislative restrictions, freeing corporations and unions to spend as much as they wished. Six months ago, the Supreme Court took its Citizens United decision further. In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, it struck down long standing caps on what an individual may contribute to all federal candidates, collectively, in any two-year election cycle. With conservative justices dominant, the court expanded the concept that money is equivalent to speech, protected by the First Amendment. Corporations, it said, enjoy the same political rights as individuals. A study by the Sunlight Foundation, an advocate for government transparency, found that 31,385 people — that is 1 percent of 1 percent of the United States population — accounted for 28 percent of all disclosed contributions in the 2012 elections. This year, an analysis by The New York Times shows, more than half of broadcast advertising in the midterm elections has been paid for by groups that reveal little or nothing about their donors. Overwhelmingly, the main beneficiaries have been conservative organizations.
Note: For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing election news articles from reliable major media sources. For more along these lines, see the excellent, reliable resources provided in our Elections Information Center.
Imagine a system of college education supported by high and growing government spending on elite private universities that mainly educate children of the wealthy and upper-middle class, and low and declining government spending on public universities that educate large numbers of children from the working class and the poor. You can stop imagining. That's the American system right now. The annual government subsidy to Princeton University, for example, is about $54,000 per student, according to an estimate by economist Richard Vedder. Other elite privates aren't far behind. Public universities, by contrast, have little or no endowment income. They get almost all their funding from state governments. But these subsidies have been shrinking. State and local financing for public higher education came to about $76 billion last year, nearly 10 percent less than a decade before. Since more students attend public universities now than ten years ago, that decline represents a 30 percent drop per student. That means the average annual government subsidy per student at a public university comes to less than $4,000, about one-tenth the per student government subsidy at the elite privates. So what justifies the high per-student government subsidies at the elite private universities, and the low per-student subsidies in public universities? There is no justification.
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In recent weeks, the managers, employees and customers of a New England chain of supermarkets called Market Basket have joined together to oppose the board of directors' decision in June to oust the chain's popular chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas. Their demonstrations and boycotts have emptied most of the chain's 71 stores. What was so special about Arthur T., as he's known? Mainly, his business model. He kept prices lower than his competitors, paid his employees more, and gave them and his managers more authority. Late last year, he offered customers an additional 4 percent discount, arguing they could use the money more than the shareholders. In other words, Arthur T. viewed the company as a joint enterprise from which everyone should benefit, not just shareholders. Which is why the board fired him. Patagonia, a large apparel manufacturer based in Ventura, has organized itself as a "B corporation." That's a for-profit company whose articles of incorporation require it to take into account the interests of workers, the community and the environment as well as shareholders. The performance of B corporations according to this measure is regularly reviewed and certified by a nonprofit entity called B Lab. To date, more than 500 companies in 60 industries have been certified as B corporations, including the household products firm Seventh Generation. In addition, 27 states have passed laws allowing companies to incorporate as "benefit corporations." This gives directors legal protection to consider the interests of all stakeholders rather than just the shareholders who elected them.
Note: What would the world be like if each corporation put the welfare of its workers and quality of its products at the same level of priority as profits for its stockholders? For more on this, see concise summaries of deeply revealing income inequality news articles from reliable major media sources.
This summer, [Raymond Burse,] the interim president at Kentucky State University, made a large gesture to his school's lowest-paid employees. Burse announced that he would take a 25 percent salary cut to boost their wages. The 24 school employees making less than $10.25 an hour, who mostly serve as custodial staff, groundskeepers and lower-end clerical workers, will see their pay rise to that new baseline. Some had been making as little as $7.25, the current federal minimum. Burse, who assumed the role of interim president in June, says he asked the school's chief financial officer how much such an increase would cost. The amount: $90,125. "I figured it was easier for me to forgo that amount, rather than adding an additional burden on the institution," Burse says. The school ratified his employment contract on the spot — decreasing it from $349,869 to $259,744. He has pledged to take further salary cuts any time new minimum-wage employees are hired on his watch, to bring their hourly rate to $10.25. Burse describes himself as someone who believes in raising wages, and who also has high expectations and demands for his staff. "I thought that if I'm going to ask them to really be committed and give this institution their all, I should be doing something in return," Burse says. "I didn’t have any examples of it having been done out there and I didn’t do it to be an example to anyone else," Burse says. "I did it to do right by the employees here."
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It seems safe to say that Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty, will be the most important economics book of the year — and maybe of the decade. Mr. Piketty, arguably the world’s leading expert on income and wealth inequality, does more than document the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small economic elite. He also makes a powerful case that we’re on the way back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent. Six of the 10 wealthiest Americans are already heirs rather than self-made entrepreneurs, and the children of today’s economic elite start from a position of immense privilege. As Mr. Piketty notes, “the risk of a drift toward oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism.” Business income, and income from capital in general, is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people. In 1979 the top 1 percent of households accounted for 17 percent of business income; by 2007 the same group was getting 43 percent of business income, and 75 percent of capital gains. Both Koch brothers are numbered among the 10 wealthiest Americans, and so are four Walmart heirs. Great wealth buys great political influence — and not just through campaign contributions. Many conservatives live inside an intellectual bubble of think tanks and captive media that is ultimately financed by a handful of megadonors.
Note: For more on income and wealth inequality, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
Limitless growth is the fantasy of economists, businesses and politicians. It is seen as a measure of progress. As a result, gross domestic product (GDP), which is supposed to measure the wealth of nations, has emerged as both the most powerful number and dominant concept in our times. However, economic growth hides the poverty it creates through the destruction of nature, which in turn leads to communities lacking the capacity to provide for themselves. In effect, “growth” measures the conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities. Today, economics is separated from and opposed to both ecological processes and basic needs. While the destruction of nature has been justified on grounds of creating growth, poverty and dispossession [have] increased. While being non-sustainable, it is also economically unjust. The dominant model of economic development has in fact become anti-life. Nobel-prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen have admitted that GDP does not capture the human condition and urged the creation of different tools to gauge the wellbeing of nations. This is why countries like Bhutan have adopted the gross national happiness in place of gross domestic product to calculate progress. We need to create measures beyond GDP, and economies beyond the global supermarket, to rejuvenate real wealth. We need to remember that the real currency of life is life itself.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Bros., heralding the Great Recession. The better off are better off than ever. Most of the rest are right where they started, or worse. For example, earnings of the top 1 percent (those families making more than $394,000 a year) commanded 95 percent of the income gains generated between 2009 and 2012. Their earnings grew by 31 percent in the period, compared with 0.4 percent for the less fortunate. That's according to a study published last week by UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, whose finding in 2011 that income inequality in the United States is the widest since 1928 was highly publicized. In fact, according to the latest study by Saez, whose numbers are drawn from IRS data, America's top 10 percent (those households earning above $114,000) account for more than half of the nation's total income, the highest percentage since 1917. Despite improvements in the economy, "it seems unlikely that U.S. income concentration will fall much in the coming years," Saez concludes. Or it could intensify. Factoring in inflation, median household income ($52,000) has actually fallen by 4.4 percent since June 2009, according to Sentier Research, a Maryland consultancy, in a report last week based on government statistics. Then there's the Federal Reserve, which reported that American families have recovered just 45 percent of the $16 trillion in wealth that went down the tubes in the recession. And most of the recovery has gone to the wealthy, whose income bounced back largely thanks to the recovery of the stock market, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in May.
George Ross is no longer an official member of the labor force. Out of work for the past two years, he didn't figure in the government's [latest] employment numbers. He's a "marginally attached" worker, although he doesn't see himself that way. Ross, 60, is among the 12.2 million Americans classified as "not in the labor force" by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the monthly reports. Why? Because if they have been looking for a job for more than a year - but not in the past four weeks - they're considered "discouraged" - they just don't feel they can find a job. Or they're "marginally attached," those like Ross, who had to stop looking for other reasons, like family responsibilities. Or they're working fewer than 35 hours a week - their employer cut their hours, it's the best they can find - which means they're "part time for economic reasons" or "involuntary part time." None of them is counted, but if you added the 2.3 million "discouraged" and "marginally attached" to the 11.7 million officially unemployed, you'd have an unemployment rate closer to 9 percent - not the 7.5 percent reported [on May 3]. Add in the reluctant part-timers (7.2 million) and the rate jumps to 13.9 percent. For the long-term unemployed - those out of work for more than six months - like Ross and 4.4 million others, the prospects are especially daunting. The longer you're out of work the less likely prospective employers will even take a look at you. That goes double if you're older. A Government Accountability Office report last year found "employer reluctance to hire older workers as a key challenge" to reducing unemployment.
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