Much has been recently written about growing economic inequality at a national level, but a new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Pulling Apart, now provides an analysis of income change on a state-by-state basis. Quoting from some of the report's most notable findings:
In the United States as a whole, the poorest fifth of households had an average income of $20,510, while the top fifth had an average income of $164,490 — eight times as much. In 15 states, this top-to-bottom ratio exceeded 8.0. In the late 1970s, in contrast, no state had a top-to-bottom ratio exceeding 8.0.
The average in come of the top 5 percent of households was 13.3 times the average income of the bottom fifth. The states with the largest such gaps were Arizona, New Mexico, California, Georgia, and New York, where the ratio exceeded 15.0.
Thanks to NPR's Marketplacefor calling attention to this publication.
Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream aired on PBSIndependent Lens last night and is now available on Hulu. If any student or students would like to write a review of it, please do so ASAP and forward to me for posting.
Veterans' Day is a most appropriate time to reflect on the relation between social class and military service. In particular need of reflection is the fact that those from the lower reaches of the stratification order typically bear the brunt of casualties during war. Poor and working-class men are more often killed because they are more likely to serve in harm's way as non-commissioned front-line soldiers, but they also have been less able to avoid conscription by either paying another to serve as in the Civil War or receiving college deferment as in the Vietnam War (see Appy, 1993). Today's military is exclusively comprised of volunteers who often join because they lack viable employment alternatives, and this has only heightened the class-biased composition of casualties from recent wars in the Middle East. Moreover, poor and working-class men are also more likely to feel the continuing effects of war in terms of psychiatric distress as they transition out of the service and try to adapt to civilian life.
Army and Marine suicide rates increased sharply between 2001-2010 and today are about twice that for the U.S. population (Harrell & Berglass, 2011) . Recent data indicate that more active-duty military personnel have taken their lives this year than have died on the battlefield (Williams, 2012). However, suicide among veterans is of even far greater magnitude. According to the Veterans Administration, although about 1 percent of adults served in the military over the past decade, veterans represented 20 percent of all U.S. suicides (Harrell & Berglass, 2011). As discussed in the above Democracy Now! interviews with Aaron Glantz and others knowledgeable about the issue, the extreme suicide problem among military personnel and veterans reflects several key factors, including multiple deployments to the Middle East and an inadequate government treatment response to depression and PTSD.
For an excellent description of how war produces mental disorders and other adjustment problems, view the PBS Frontline documentary, The Wounded Platoon, which follows soldiers in an Army infantry unit from Fort Riley to deployment in Iraq and then back to the U.S.
For information on individual U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, see this excellent CNN interactive graphic.
STEPS has created a multimedia initiative to reignite interest in the problem of global poverty. Why Poverty?will feature 8 documentaries and 30 shorter videos that will be released for online and television viewing later this month (trailers and some shorts are already available on its YouTube channel). According to STEPS, the objectives of the initiative are to: produce narratives that inspire people to think and be part of the solution, involve the best filmmakers in the creation of bold and provocative factual films, bring together broadcasters worldwide and engage audience through multiple media platforms, create a global outreach campaign, supplementing the broadcasts with extra teaching materials, and engage with decision-makers and influencers to find solutions for change.
Social stratification perspectives to the left of conservatism assume that innate intelligence is not a resource largely monopolized by the affluent. Rather, raw aptitude is distributed throughout the class structure, and the opportunity for cultivation is all that is needed to realize it. This CNN article and video speak to these assumptions in describing a classical music program extended to children living in some of Brazil's poorest slums. Retired pianist, Joao Carlos Martins, started the program several years ago after searching to find kids with music potential. "I discovered so many naturally talented children that I decided to build a project... In 10 years, I intend to build 1,000 string orchestras in underprivileged areas across our country." Along with providing employable skills, his program has been credited with psychologically empowering participants, while diverting them from drugs and crime.
Update: Dec 12, 2012
The above video similarly examines the development of music talent among the poor in South America. Landfill harmonic describes how a Paraguayan community built on piles of refuse fashions crude, but sweet-sounding instruments, out of trash, and what these instruments and the "recycled" orchestra formed around them means to its children. The larger story about this project will soon appear in a full-length documentary.
Thanks to Jay Villarreal for bringing this inspiring clip to attention.
This CBS news report shows dramatic wealth inequalities
across race, and how the inequalities have increased dramatically during the
Great Recession. Like Oliver and Shapiro's classic book,Black Wealth/White Wealth, the report documents that in 1995, the median
white household had a net worth 7 times larger than black and Hispanic
households. Citing Census data analyzed by the Pew Center, the video shows that
in 2010 white households ($113,000) now have 18 times the net worth of
Hispanics ($6,325) and 20 times the net worth of African-Americans ($5,677). It
notes that part of this growing difference is that the net worth of most racial
minorities is found in their homes, while whites are more likely to also own
financial assets. The news team argues that this asset allocation explains why
white wealth has rebounded significantly from its recent losses and increased
the wealth divide. While this is true, they largely miss other important
factors. For example, Melvin Oliver's2008 reportfound
that African-Americans were the subject of systematic predatory lending during
the housing bubble that led to the Great Recession. He noted that
"minorities were steered away from safe, conventional loans by brokers who
received incentives for jacking up the interest rate" and that their
mortgages had "high hidden costs, exploding adjustable rates, and
prepayment penalties to preclude refinancing." This not only lead to a
drop in the value of minority wealth, but actually stripped much of their
assets as borrowers who defaulted on their loans.The video closes by saying "experts say it could be a
decade before the wealth gap closes," although they do not cite any experts that say this.
Viewers may question the optimism of this prediction and reflect on why it is
likely to take much more than a decade for something like wealth (which is
passed down from one generation to another) to be more equitably distributed
across race. The video is a great accompaniment to the readings linked to
above, and perhaps even thiscomedic videofrom Chris Rock on race and the differences
between being rich and wealthy.