The level of income inequality in the United States is unjust. Although some levels of inequality will always exist in society, with the large disparity between the upper and working/lower classes, we see a lack of participation in society from those who have less. When it comes to things like voting and asset-building, those living in poverty get left in the dust, leaving some people in a superior position, but many more in an inferior. These social and economic hierarchies leave people with no place in a fair democracy, and in the middle of a glaring and growing problem.
In an interview, philosophy professor and author Elizabeth Anderson says, “Extreme wealth inequality also leads to the de facto control of government by the rich (plutocracy), and so is incompatible with democracy…More…distributions of wealth spread opportunity and hence freedom more widely and fully than systems in which wealth is concentrated in a tiny self-perpetuating class.” In essence, Anderson is saying that as the US stands, the rich has more power in society. In saying that, it means we are getting further and further away from democracy and leaning more towards a plutocracy in which opportunity and freedom is limited to the upper class. This is because there is little distribution of resources in the US. Looking at the Gini coefficient- a nation’s measure of inequality between 0 and 1, in which the closer the coefficient gets to 1, the less equal it is- we can see that in 1998, the US had a coefficient of .41. Many experts estimated the coefficient to be around.44 in 2004, and .469 in 2010. What exactly does this number mean? In 2004, it meant that the richest 10% of people in the US made 17 times more money than the lowest 10%. The number goes up even further when investment values are added into the mix, being that the poor usually don’t make money off of them in the way the rich do. When investments are added in, the Gini coefficient for the US is somewhere around 57.4. In terms of the coefficient, this would mean that nearly 60% of America has almost all of its wealth and resources, and slightly fewer than 40% have nearly none. In a salary comparison between average floor workers and CEOs in the US, researchers found that a CEO makes on average above 500 times more than a floor worker. How does all of this tie in to democracy?
In his article, journalist Daniel Weeks says that the politicians upon whom many impoverished citizens rely do not rely anymore on those citizens, as most lobbying and fundraising is done through the wealthy. He goes on to say that poverty is so persistent in society because millions of impoverished people have become silenced in the political sphere. Statistics show that many impoverished people of the voting age choose not to vote because they don’t feel as if their voices are being listened to. As a matter of fact, studies indicate that non-voters are much more liberal than voters, and would vote for fairer wealth distribution than those who do choose to vote. In a study done by professors William Franko, Nathan Kelly, and Christopher Witko, findings showed that in states where there were smaller voting gaps between the wealthy and poor, policies tended to favor the poor more, states had “higher minimum wages, stricter lending laws and more generous health benefits” than states that had a higher voting disparity.
Analyzing this, we can see that poverty causes people to participate less in society, and especially in the political sphere. The disparity in income between the wealthy and the poor has caused people to stop relying on politicians and democracy. Being that economic systems should be judged by how they serve people, we can see that in this case people are being limited by their economic statuses. The inequality leaves many people unable to flourish in society and therefore the common good is out of reach unless the impoverished are empowered to be more active in society. In this case, those with more money and more power should be responsible for helping the impoverished regain their dignity and their rights and ability to participate in society; Then, and only then, will things be just.
Babones, Salvatore. “U.S. Income Distribution: Just How Unequal?” Inequalityorg. N.p., 13
Chan, Kai. “Economic Inequality Is Unjust.” The Daily Princetonian Economic Inequality Is Unjust Comments. N.p., 14 Oct. 2004.
Franko, William W., Nathan J. Kelly, and Christopher Witko. “HOW ROADBLOCKS TO VOTING MAKE INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE.” HOW ROADBLOCKS TO VOTING MAKE INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE (n.d.): n. pag. Scholars Strategy Network. Jan. 2014.
Fulwood, Sam, III. “Why Young, Minority, and Low-Income Citizens Don’t Vote.” American Progress. N.p., 6 Nov. 2014.
Gutting, Gary, and Elizabeth Anderson. “What’s Wrong With Inequality?” New York Times. N.p., 23 Apr. 2015.
McElwee, Sean. “The 1 Percent Are More Likely to Vote Than the Poor or Middle Class — And It Matters, a Lot.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Dec. 2014.
McElwee, Sean. “Why the Voting Gap Matters.” Why the Voting Gap Matters. N.p., 23 Oct. 2014
Weeks, Daniel. “Poverty vs. Democracy in America.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 06 Jan. 2014.