Nearly 75 percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say income inequality is a problem in this country. This is in sharp contrast to opinions three years ago, when roughly half of readers said wealth inequality was not a problem.
In the current poll, 51 percent said income inequality is a major problem; 23 percent said it is “somewhat of a problem.” Twenty-six percent said it is not a problem.
When the same question was posed in November 2007, one-quarter of respondents said wealth inequality was a major problem and 26 percent called it somewhat of a problem. Another 26 percent said it was not at all a problem, and 22 percent said it was not much of a problem.
A new census report, released last week, shows the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans increased in 2009 to its widest since data collection began nearly a half-century ago.
The top 20 percent of U.S. households earned roughly 50 percent of aggregate income, and the bottom 20 percent received 3.4 percent. In 1968, the top 20 percent earned 42.6 percent, while the bottom 20 percent took home 4 percent. The top 5 percent received nearly 22 percent of aggregate income last year, versus 16.3 percent in 1968.
The new census data also show a rising poverty level. In the city of Rochester, 42.6 percent of families with children under age 18 were below the poverty level last year, up from 35.9 percent in 2006.
Roughly 660 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Oct. 4 and 5.
Is income inequality a problem in the United States?
A major problem: 51 percent
Somewhat of a problem: 23 percent
Not much of a problem: 11 percent
Not a problem: 15 percent
Which of the following government actions would you support to reduce income inequality?
More investment in job training for low-income workers: 47 percent
More investment in education of students from low-income families: 43 percent
Greater income redistribution: 38 percent
None of the above: 22 percent
Other: 15 percent
The Constitution guarantees us equal opportunity, not equal results. Every American has equal opportunity to study hard, work hard and take risk. A safety net is in place; it is called workfare, Social Security, Medicaid, etc. In fact, 47 percent of households pay no federal income tax. Fifty percent of households receive some sort of government assistance. The top 10 percent of wage earners pay 71 percent of federal income tax. The top 50 percent pay 97 percent! Don’t let someone try to muddy these facts by bringing up payroll taxes. We all have payroll taxes that are really insurance premiums for Social Security and Medicare. Again, the poor receive a disproportionate benefit from these programs, as well.
—Steve Taylor, North American Filter Corp.
Life is a tough business; you have to get up each morning and work it. My 10 “two-letter” words that everybody can understand are, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” Thanks.
The inequity in income is a reflection of the separation that been created within our country between those who are in the economic mainstream and those who are not. This separation will eventually cause resentment and a growing crime rate as people become more desperate to survive. Our society depends on everyone having access to the economic mainstream, which can only be done with successful education and job training. The downtrodden must be drawn into the system and given the support needed for them to become productive and successful.
—Daryl M. Dickson, R.E.A.L. commission director
I had thought we lived in the United States of America? The solution to your hypothetical issue is charity, not government. Government should be the last choice to solve a problem. People solve problems, not government.
—Mark DiFelice, DiFelice Development
Income inequality is not the problem. It is the entitlements that lower-income families and individuals feel they deserve from the government that is the problem. If we as a country want to make an economic rebound, then start rewarding the people who actually work for their assets.
This inequality is probably the greatest threat to our country. When the CEOs earn 100 times the salary of the average worker in their organization, it displays greed on their part and creates anger among the workers. Then all lose.
The number of poor people is tripling every 10 years, as is the number of wealthy people. We are moving from a bell curve to an hourglass in terms of income distribution. The American middle is disappearing. At this rate we will be a nation of shanty towns and gated communities in 50 years. In other words, a Third World country.
—J.P. Gleason, Gleason Fund Raising Consultants
You asked the wrong question when you asked for remedies. More investment in education for low-income students isn’t the answer. But improved educational opportunity for poor kids is definitely one of the critical steps that must be taken in order to solve the income inequality problem. Throwing money into a failed system isn’t the answer. We need to disband the educational monopoly and greatly expand school choice options, both through the growth of innovative charter schools as well as through opportunity scholarships, which allow inner city kids to attend any public or private school of their choosing. We’ve tried throwing money at the problem, and it hasn’t worked. Government funding of K to 12 education is vital. Government-run schools are not.
I refer all to "Economic Facts and Fallacies" by Thomas Sowell. Dr. Sowell is most likely the brightest economist alive today. Income redistribution simply doesn’t work. When comparing the increase in the income gap, studies fail to point out that many in the original poorest group have risen to the middle class and some to become extremely wealthy. Many middle-income individuals have fallen below the poverty line. A rich person who stops working altogether may now be included in the low-income group for, alas, he has no income, only wealth. What those who fan the flames of class warfare really want is wealth redistribution, not income redistribution. That will come when we have fallen into totalitarianism. Why do you think Russia and China are moving away from that concept? Quality education is the answer for those who truly want to improve their lot. You state that the top 20 percent earn roughly 50 percent now as opposed to 42.6 percent in 1968. Do you really think they are all the same people? The price of a 46-inch plasma HDTV that can receive 1500 channels is the same as the color TV in 1968 that got two. Today it costs about one week’s worth of earnings. In 1968 it cost about two months worth for the average wage earner. What do you not like about this thing called capitalism?
—Bill Lanigan, Chamberlin Rubber
The growing concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent of our people is stifling the economy. We’re told that the economy won’t rebound until consumers start buying but 99 percent of consumers have seen real incomes frozen or reduced and can’t start spending. The greatest growth decades in this country occurred when the middle class was growing and its incomes increasing.
—Paul Haney, retired
Income inequality? How many times do we need to see Socialism (or any other version of it) fail before this debate will stop resurging? If you want more money—go out and earn it.
Since the 1970s wealth creation for the working middle class has dropped, with the parallel loss of union work and respect for union workers earning a living wage. At the same time the greatest redistribution of wealth has sucked income from the middle and deposited it with the upper 1 percent of the country. Over the last several years the upper portion of less than 1 percent of the country is controlling more than 25 percent of the wealth, with 40 percent of people sharing 5 percent of the wealth. With the government giving incentives to companies to move work overseas, and the general public either insensitive or unheard as these jobs are sent to lower paying workers has contributed to the great disparity in wealth in this country. Less than two generations ago, it wasn’t necessary for women to enter the workforce, now a family needs everyone, including the children to be bringing in money in order to stay afloat. Until workers and voters unit and demand a fair shake in the work environment this trend will continue and we will soon be a third world country where no one makes a living wage and we scrape out a dismal living. Minimum wage is $7.25 or so an hour, while a living wage is $35 an hour. How many jobs do you know that regularly pay $20 to $30 an hour. Dr Pepper punished union workers making $20 an hour because wages are so depressed in this area they know they can find workers at $14 or less per hour. At the same time during the TARP bailouts, a CITI broker was given a $100 million dollar bonus. Something is wrong with that picture.
—Joe Wierzbowski Plymouth Photo Studio
When one in seven Americans lives below the poverty line (about $22,000 for a family of four), something must be wrong.
—David Lamb, Rochester
There are some loopholes for hedge fund managers that should be closed up along with a number of others. However, I’m very skeptical of the statistics which show that amount of income inequality. There are so many subsidies available for low and some lower middle income individuals and families starting with Section 8 housing, welfare payments, utility payments, food stamps, free health care, free college education, earned income tax payments, job training, school food programs, etc. This is a large amount of income. If all this was added into the statistics the income differential gap wouldn’t be as dramatic. The so called progressive tax system is a misnomer. By increasing the tax rates for increasing income levels is actually regressive. Tax rates should decrease as income levels increase based upon the principle of economies of scale. If this was done, it would spur real economic growth and help solve income inequality by producing good paying jobs. As usual New York State, Andrew Cuomo, the Obama Administration and Congress have it backward. Taxation is an economic killer and hurts everyone including ultimately, the poor.
—John Rynne, president Rynne, Murphy & Associates, Inc.
Income inequality is a social problem, and the government is the worst vehicle to solutions. In fact, the government’s involvement for the past 50 years compounded the problem. The data you just presented is the best evidence. There are so many income redistribution programs the government now has and yet the income disparity widened. The harder the government tries in income "redistribution" it only further reduces the incentives and desire to work. Once the desire to work is lost and becoming dependent on government handouts, the entitlement mentality sets in. A productive life is lost. Evidence of such is all over the U.S.
Thank you, President Obama. This man has no experience at running anything and he obviously never researched capitalism and how it lifts everyone up unlike the communist systems he thinks are so evenhanded.
The real issue is NOT "income inequality." If someone has worked hard, made smart decisions, and has done so in an honest and ethical manner, they deserve the higher income. The problem is two-fold: 1) Our government is fostering an entitlement mentality, telling people that they deserve benefits and lifestyle without working for them. 2) Overtaxation and overregulation have made it very difficult for entrepreneurs to expand their businesses, and in many cases made it impossible to even stay in business. Business expansion equals more jobs. More jobs equal more money in the economy. More money in the economy is turned around into business expansion. Everyone wins. I would support job-training programs to enable low-income workers to improve their skills, in fields in which jobs are actually available, which would allow people to gain better employment.
—Ted Miller, President AVIK Technologies, Inc.
The gap between the very rich and the rest of us is measurably, dramatically rising. We must seek solutions that grow and strengthen the middle class and the upper middle class. This will not be an easy task, but I believe the future of our country depends on it.
—Carolyn Phinney Rankin
The key components to increasing income are hard work and continuous learning. Every individual has the ability to improve their income but it takes time, effort and desire. Tax breaks, subsidies and handouts only go so far and can be detrimental. There is no quick fix to this statistic but investment in training and education can promote a solution over time.
—Nancy May, APPC
American trade imbalance, a crumbling Infrastructure, a tax structure that is unfair, corporate greed to enhance a bottom line that does not show up in “our” retirements funds, two wars (we can’t win), a declining middle class, rising poverty and are urban school s are a mess. Our politicians (both national parties) are self serving and incompetent. As a teacher of American History, Economics and Government with a master’s degree in international studies, I believe that we are seeing the decline of the American way of life. Lets’ stop the blame game and put American business and the American worker back to work before it’s too late.
—Tim Judd, Teacher RCSD, owner of Shannon Construction
The only income problem is the burden of taxation levied. There is no problem with income inequality (are you kidding me?). Want to fix the problem? End welfare! The common denominator is the welfare system. It promotes poverty by enabling. Children having children is the beginning of the cycle. The education system isn’t broke, the family structure is! Hold fathers and mothers accountable. Every single responsible set of parents I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime has nurtured their children to aspire to a better life then they’ve had. No matter what the struggle. Through education, behavior, hard work, self-discipline and respect. The notion that government could somehow provide these basic building blocks for our youth has created generations of welfare families that have accepted living off taxpayer money as a way of life. In fact, they feel entitled to it. What a shame. It is up to the "victims"— and only the "victims"—that complain of income equality as a problem to do something about it. Actually attend school to get an education (I’m absolutely sure our educators would appreciate that!), get jobs during summer vacation (washing cars, cutting grass, gardening, painting, for spending money – it’s a great training exercise for spending and saving), have children after marriage (create children out of love, not for income), take responsibility for your own actions (your lot in life is a result of your own actions, behaviors, and habits), earn your own money (if you don’t like how much you make, work harder, get two jobs!), live according to your means (that means if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it!). If people don’t like any of the hard work it takes to succeed, that’s ok….but the government shouldn’t step in and confiscate (tax) my money for them. If people are unhappy with their income, the government is the last entity that should get involved—that’s how this whole mess started. No confiscated (tax) money is needed (it never was). The people who are "victims" of income equality are the only ones that could fix the problem. Think of all the immigrants (legal ones) that had hardship with language, housing, education, income and discrimination in the "olden days." It was the family structure that raised those people up. It’s not rocket science, just common sense. The hardworking taxpayers need to stop the confiscation of their paychecks without any say. Stop being the silent majority. It’s our money—exercise your right to vote and have a say with regard to how much money is confiscated and what it gets used for. We are the majority; we just have to act like it! As for the statistics quoted above, it is our social programs that sustain those numbers. Cut the programs and you cut those numbers. People will either work or move to another welfare magnet. Just to clarify, the elderly, infirmed and veterans deserve all of the compassion and support our great country could muster.
The current mood in Washington is that the income inequality gap can be solved by taking from some and giving to others. They try to accomplish this by micromanaging taxation, social programs, government programs and regulation. How about this: Get out of the way and let Americans unleash their entrepreneurial spirit. Everyone in America deserves their own bite at the apple—don’t take away anyone’s chance and give it to someone else in the issue of fairness.
—Dave Iadanza, Farmington
The last time income inequality was this bad was the eve of the Great Depression. With 70 percent of our market economy based on consumer spending, we saw stagnate wages and the outsourcing of good jobs on a massive level during the last decade. The wealth was redistributed to the top, aided and abetted by tax policy. Easy and sometimes fraudulent credit kept consumer demand afloat until that house of cards fell. Dr. Robert Manning, at the time a professor at RIT, in his book" Credit Card Nation” (copyright 2000) revealed what was happening and the likely outcome. Investigative journalist and author David Kay Johnston in his book "Free Lunch" exposes the tax and deregulatory policies that contributed to this mess. These policies had the effect of distributing more income to the richest and giving us the Great Recession.
—Jim Bertolone, president, Rochester AFL-CIO
ARE YOU KIDDING? This is a question that Stalin would have asked! Government has no role in "reducing income equality." It is the responsibility of the individual to get up and work and increase their own income. I support a person’s right to join a union and to work together as a group, but I will never support forced government interventions!
—Kenny Harris, EPIC Advisors
Sure it’s an issue but it’s only a "problem" for those who want it to be. The root of the problem is inequality in perseverance, drive, and good old fashioned hard work. Each new generation seems to be less interested in hard work and difficult subjects like STEM education. They opt for something "easier." Sitting on Facebook or watching so called "reality" shows will not contribute to your success. We have plenty of programs already that the less fortunate can use to get a great education—particularly in New York State. Capitalism has made America great for hundreds of years—let’s not ruin it by "adjusting" the principles this country was founded on.
—Douglas R. Strang, Jr.
In the past, every time the income tax rate was reduced the economy grew, jobs were created by the millions, and overall tax revenue greatly increased. This claim that continuing the present tax rates will add to the deficit is a red herring. The worst thing that could be done is to let taxes rise on anyone, especially the small businesses that are the engine that creates jobs. By reinvesting those evil profits instead of giving more taxes to the government for redistribution, the economy will grow and we can work our way out of this progressive created mess.
R. J. Brinkman, chairman, Brinkman International Group Inc.
Income inequality is a problem only to the extent that higher income people don’t pay the same rate of taxes as do the lower income earners. And I specify "rate." No one should begrudge people with more money than they have. It’s just that the more money one has, the more access one has to taking advantage of tax schemes that shelter much of that income from taxes. I believe that the wealthy should seek good investment advice and be rewarded with as high an income as they can obtain. What is just wrong is to have the wealthy pay less in taxes, on a percentage basis, as you and I. No tax loopholes, no favorable rates. And, please don’t include estate taxes as a viable way to make anything better. There should be NO estate taxes at all. Capital gains yes, but only when real property is actually sold.
"Parenting" is very important. Kids need to be loved. If they are raised happy, responsible, friendly, respectful of themselves and others, with the understanding and encouragement that they are free to excel in whatever interests them, the world would be a lot better place. If children are not loved, neglected, and not encouraged by their parents or parent, by time they get to school, it’s almost too late. The early development time, from infant to five years old is very important. It sets the tone for the rest of the child’s life. "Parenting" should be part of the curriculum in all levels of schools. It will help the children of the students.
The government should take two actions—read “Atlas Shrugged” and learn from it. It’s not a perfect philosophy but it is right on with respect to the government attempting to seize control from the people.
—Jack Anthony, Rochester
Interesting that you should conduct a poll, since the fact is well-established that there is an ever-widening and enormous gap between the wealthy and the rest of us, and the middle class is being obliterated. And of course our property taxes are out of proportion with other places, partly because we have such reasonably-priced housing in the first place. Think on that one, do the math.
—Margie Campaigne, Project HOUSE/Green Irene
Significantly increasing the earning power of the middle class will restore the economy faster than allowing the wealthy to keep their money. The increased tax revenue should be used to fund works and training programs to restore all infrastructures to optimized performance. As part of government funded improvement to transportation, electrical transmission and pipeline systems, irrigation and environmental restoration programs mandatory skills training for long term skilled jobs should be required. Because there are vastly more middle class people in the U.S., once they are gainfully employed long term, they will pay taxes and reduce the drain on social spending and help reduce the deficit. It’s really the difference between many people making modest contributions vs. a few people making large contributions. We are better off as a democracy where most people benefit, than one where only a few prosper excessively.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
Until the government creates a favorable business environment to create jobs the inequity will continue to grow. Right now we have 14 million people out of work if that number continues to grow the income differential between the works and non-workers will continue to expand.
There is nothing in the Constitution that requires government to do anything at all about income inequity. Therefore, government has no business trying to redistribute wealth. Helping those in need is the job of United Way, the Red Cross, and so many other fine private organizations that exist in this most generous country to serve the needy. The Constitution provides the foundation of freedoms for every American. What we do with our lives and our fortunes (or lack of) are totally up to the individual. Every effort the government has made at redistribution has been a disaster. It has done nothing more than create a dependency class and a bureaucracy to cater to them at tremendous cost to all of us. These programs dilute or eliminate individual self-reliance and self-confidence, attributes which make good citizens helped build this great nation. Government needs to get out of that business altogether.
—George Thomas, Ogden
What a horrible couple of questions. The Soviet Union did a pretty good job of achieving income redistribution, resulting in two classes: the poor and the people in power. Almost everyone was poor, but they felt so good about it because they were all equally poor. Contrast that with the American concept of freedom and free markets which resulted in the wealthiest group of people to ever exist on the face of the earth. Now we find our Marxist leaders inexorably driving the standard of living down for the middle and lower classes all in the name of income redistribution—"spreading the wealth around a little." Not surprisingly, our rulers, the government big business, and big union overlords, have not had their income affected in a negative way at all.
Our economy is driven by the majority of more than 90 percent of citizens who are in the middle or lower income levels. This majority of Americans needs to spend most of their income on necessities and affords relatively low-cost luxuries. Equally, those receiving unemployment payments, social security, and welfare spend this money within a short time. In contrast, the wealthy, due to their small number, have only a miniscule impact on the overall economy. Yet, the economic system is pushed to enrich the rich and to reduce the income of those, the majority of Americans, who sustain the overall economy. With the present system, where the rich and banks sit on trillions of dollars of cash, and withhold the investments to create new jobs, the in equality of income will only grow and create civil, economic, and political unrest. The problem of unemployment and low income is made worse by the lack of agreement what will be necessary to do to keep the population at work while all necessary produced products for living are made in other countries. Solutions were proposed over half a century ago, by Americans, but would be unacceptable (no, they are not socialist or communist) under the present cultural environment in our USA.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
Government is for sale. Lock, stock and barrel, because of the very high cost of campaigning, and the nearly nonexistent controls on campaign contributions. How to solve it? Outlaw PACs, and limit every individual and every organization to a $500 contribution. Until we do that, large corporations and the wealthy will stack the decks ever more favorably for themselves. Our middle class is disappearing, and not long after that our freedom will disappear.
—Fred Dewey, Victor
Students/employees receiving government aid for education should have to repay that money via work for a not-for-profit organization. Executive pay in the U.S. is out of control vs. executive compensation in other industrialized countries. This needs to be corrected soon if we are to maintain a middle class and a viable economy. Successful leaders are focused on the long-term sustainability of their organizations and their society not on how much they can make in the short period of time they hold positions of power and influence.
The income imbalance problem in the United States today is not just a matter of rich vs. poor, but rather a matter of a dwindling middle class. Thus it is not just a matter of education or training for low income workings. We have to bolster our manufacturing sector, and we have to address a business culture that believes the executives should receive compensation that is far in excess of the relative value that they deliver to the organization.
The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans today control about a quarter of the nation’s total riches, which is a 66 percent greater share than they controlled at the close of the Gilded Age. In today’s America, 1 in 7 live in poverty, 1 in 5 children live in poverty, 1 in 6 doesn’t have health insurance, 1 in 5 is unemployed/underemployed, 1 in 7 is mortgage delinquent, 2/3 live paycheck to paycheck, and 40 million are using food stamps. The U.S. ranks in the top third of world income inequality between Cameroon and Uruguay; and the U.S. has more income inequality than Indonesia, China and Turkey. When you have Congress bickering about tax breaks for the wealthiest at the expense of the deficit, jobs, help for the unemployed and mounting foreclosures and bankruptcies of the middle class and poor, I think there’s an issue with income inequality. As long as the wealthy have control of politicians campaign purse strings, that won’t change and will only become worse. Expect worse.
—Michael Thornton, Rochester
From 2000 to 2010, U.S. productivity rose 20 percent and wages stayed flat. Your chances of economic mobility are better in parts of "dreaded socialist" Europe than they are here. The 25 percent of the nation’s total income raked in by the richest 1 percent is in no way correlated to their contributions to our economy. This country cannot grow and stay secure with a rapidly vanishing middle class. Yet as always, those with the greatest money and power have the greatest say.
This is a very significant problem. But more government spending on entitlements won’t solve the problem; it will only make it worse. The way to create jobs (and job training) is by helping businesses be successful—particularly small and medium size business. As far as more investment in education goes, haven’t we proven that pumping more money into education does nothing to improve educational outcomes?
—Bob Legge, Legge & Company, LLC
We have lazy problem in the U.S. that leads to an income disparity. Most Americans are lazy; they watch too much drivel on TV, don’t read and don’t work very hard and are waiting to win the Lottery or sitting on their porch for their government check to show up—disability, SSI, welfare, subsidized union pension, etc. Americans think they work hard but don’t really know what hard work is. That is in relation to the rest of the world. People who work hard and often and go through the expense to get an education make more money and deserve more because they invested in themselves. Those people who believe it’s up to the government (a k a; the King) to make their lives better are doomed to serfdom. Unfortunately the majority now believes this
Trying to make something out of nothing more job training could always help
—H. W. Dean
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