Reflections

A Magazine of Theological and Ethical Inquiry from Yale Divinity School

E Pluribus Unequal?

Economic inequality – what’s the cause, what’s the solution? Republicans and Democrats see things differently, says a Pew Research Center report. 

Most Republicans say a person’s life choices contribute a great deal to economic inequality. That compares to 27 percent of Democrats. Republicans are more likely than Democrats (48 percent vs. 22 percent) to say that some people working harder than others accounts for inequality, Pew reported. Half of Democrats believe racial discrimination contributes a great deal to inequality; 11 percent of Republicans say that. 

Some 60 percent of Americans say there’s too much economic inequality, though most of those say some inequality is acceptable. 

As for remedies, most who say there’s too much economic inequality think the government should raise taxes on the richest Americans. Majorities in both parties say this – Democrats (91 percent) and Republicans (65 percent). 

However, across all income levels, 86 percent of Americans who say there’s too much economic inequality say the government should not raise their own taxes, Pew reported. 

About 50 percent say it would greatly reduce economic inequality to make college tuition free at public two-year colleges, expand Medicare, and increase the minimum wage. 

Other findings in the report:

 • Income inequality in the US has been increasing since 1980. The gap is greater than in other G7 countries such as the UK and France. 

• The wealth divide between upper-income households and middle- and lower-income families is rising. In this century, partly because of two recessions, middle-income families’ net worth (the value of assets such as a house or savings account, minus debt) fell by 20 percent. Lower-income household wealth shrank by 45 percent. Upper-income families increased their wealth by 33 percent. “The wealth gap between America’s richest and poorer families more than doubled from 1989 to 2016,” Pew reports. 

• The middle class has been shrinking for 50 years. The number of US adults with middle-incomes fell from 61 percent in 1971 to 51 percent in 2019. Some moved to upper-income levels. Others moved down. “On balance, there was more movement up the income ladder than down the income ladder,” Pew states. 

Source: “Most Americans Say There Is Too Much Economic Inequality in the US, but Fewer Than Half Call It a Top Priority,” Pew Research Center, Jan. 9, 2020. See pewsocialtrends.org.

Issue Title: 
Hard Times, Gospel Values
Issue Year: 
2020