Let’s kick things off with the good news: in the grand scheme of things, you’re likely already wealthy. By the numbers, if you own more than $3,100 in property you are more affluent than 50 percent of the world’s population. Makes you feel like Bill Gates, doesn’t it?
While you’re pondering your newfound wealth, we can ease you into the bad news: the real truth is that if you live in America, then you’re what experts call “poor as shit,” especially when compared to the top ten percent. What’s more, you’re very likely to stay that way — at least, if you want to have kids. Or food.
Income inequality may be a hot-button issue in the news, but for all the ink being spilled, the problem isn’t getting better any time soon.
Okay, honestly, this gets a little grim along the way, so, in exchange for me robbing you of your optimism about the future, here are several gifs featuring cute animals to distract you from the fact that the American Dream is dead. Like so:
Yes, the Odds Are Actually Stacked Against the Poor
Prepare yourself for a massive bombshell. Being poor sucks. Some people might try to convince you that being poor is a choice, but — guess what? — numbers indicate that poverty is less a “state of mind” than a social class set up like a state-supported internment camp. Not only can poor people not afford the newest iPhone, but America’s poor are also living in areas with an infrastructure that sets them up to fail. The iPhone thing is still pretty bad, though.
There are numerous contributing factors working against the residents of impoverished communities, but for the sake of brevity (and the sanity of this writer) let’s zero in on the one often pegged as the most important: education.
Across the country, schools in high-poverty areas tend to get much less funding than those schools in high-wealth regions. In Connecticut, they spend $6,000 more a year to educate rich kids. Let’s be blunt, here: fewer tax dollars translates to a worse education. Period.
By the time low-income students graduate high school they tend to be four years behind middle- and upper-class students. In fact, on average, only a third of the kids from poverty-stricken areas enroll in a four-year college, and only 15 percent of those students graduate. And this isn’t an issue that’s affecting one ghetto in New York City; 51 percent of the nation’s school children count as low-income students.
Palate cleanser time.
Getting Into College Doesn’t Mean You ‘Got Out’
For the roughly thirty percent of poor kids who are able to make it to college, they’re staring down the barrel of one of the most expensive education systems in the world. The average price of annual tuition in America has increased 213 percent since 1988.
Even more irritating, when those low-income students who aren’t forced to leave school do manage to persevere, graduate from a college, and get a good job, scores of them find themselves at odds with both the members of their new economic class and their childhood friends and family. The system makes it brutally tricky for low-income kids to get an education, then it drowns them in debt while they’re trying to chase down the American Dream. The reward for all that work is isolation from everything you knew and everything for which you fought.
Quick! Melt my heart!
Even if low-income college grads find themselves backed by Hallmark Movie support from their family, poverty-stricken kids can find themselves at a loss for business connections, a professional wardrobe, and all the other little expenses that come with setting up a new life for yourself.
How Many Rich People Does It Take to Hog All the Cash?
Okay, two quick numbers to throw at you. Number the first: 325 million. That’s the rough population of the United States. Number the second: 1.4 million. That’s the number of Americans who have more than $5 million bucks in the bank.
The real point here is that in a country with a population of roughly 325 million people and with as much as $86.1 trillion of total wealth — sorry, slipped another number in there — 42 percent of investible capital — damn! I did it again! Four numbers now! — is in the hands of just .4 percent of the population. And that scant few Americans are acquiring their fortunes at a rapidly increasing rate.
Since 1980, the wealth share of the top 5 percent of the United States has jumped 15 percent. The top 1 percent has seen a 17 percent increase in wealth. Some will argue that while the rich get richer, the poor get richer also. That’s even true to some extent. The difference is that you got a ten-dollar-a-week raise and the executives at your company just went shopping for yachts.
Income Inequality is Going to Get Much Worse
Just in case educational inequality wasn’t enough to cripple the earning power of the nation’s bottom 90 percent, recent tax initiatives from the Donald Trump White House will also work actively work against the nation’s poor.
According to NYU professor Lily Batchelder, “The [Republican tax bill] is investing heavily in the wealthy and their children — by boosting the value of their stock portfolios, creating new loopholes for them to avoid tax on their labor income, and cutting taxes on massive inheritances. At the same time, it leaves low- and middle-income workers with even fewer resources to invest in their children, and increases the number of Americans without health insurance.”
Perhaps we can take comfort in the words of philosopher Christopher Wallace, who wrote in his treatise on wealth, “Mo money, mo problems.”
By that merit, more than 45 million Americans have nothing to worry about, and if the system keeps working the way it does, people under the poverty line won’t have any problems for the rest of their lives.