“The combined trends of increasing inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe.” – President Obama
FAST FOOD workers are striking in over 100 cities for the minimum wage to be raised. To get this done the biggest businesses must accept their responsibilities go beyond their shareholders. American economic growth depends on drastically changing the current economic playing field.
The hashtag on Twitter is #FastFoodStrikes, with @McDonalds the biggest target. Asking for a living wage of $15 will not get it, but it’s the start of a revolution we haven’t seen in decades over the needs for a living wage.
It’s odd that Obama even had to make the argument. During most of the previous century, few people ever questioned why too much income inequality would be inherently bad. But this was the third major speech Obama has given as president on the topic of economic inequality. The theme of the first was that income inequality limited upward mobility (“the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart”). The theme of the second was that government policies affect how much economic inequality the country will experience. This latest speech emphasized that inequality screws up the economy and society in general, so that even if you aren’t worried about inequality or opportunity, you ought to be.
Such thinking represents a departure from the onetime prevailing view, most famously articulated by economist Arthur Okun in 1975, that greater equality came at the expense of economic efficiency. (At the time, income distribution was much more equal than it is today.) But the runup in income inequality that began in 1979 severely tested Okun’s formulation. Today there’s a tentative-but-growing consensus among economists that extreme economic inequality of the type the U.S. is experiencing impedes economic growth.
Every single politician in Congress should be made to vote on raising the minimum wage in 2014, as the midterms rev up. Unmasking the inequality and its roots, which begins with rebuilding the American middle class through a living wage, will reveal conservative hypocrisy on the economy and that many politicians on the right only represent business.
The snippet below is from President Obama’s economic speech on Wednesday, which once again fired up progressives.
What matters is the action Congress will take. A political campaign worthy of President Obama’s words and the philosophy the Democratic Party is supposed to represent must manifest as the 2014 midterms approaches.
But we know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles — to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were. They may not follow the constant back-and-forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience in a very personal way the relentless, decades-long trend that I want to spend some time talking about today. And that is a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain — that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.
I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American. It’s why I ran for President. It was at the center of last year’s campaign. It drives everything I do in this office. And I know I’ve raised this issue before, and some will ask why I raise the issue again right now. I do it because the outcomes of the debates we’re having right now — whether it’s health care, or the budget, or reforming our housing and financial systems — all these things will have real, practical implications for every American. And I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.
Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story. And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity — the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit. And with every chapter we’ve added to that story, we’ve worked hard to put those words into practice.
The wide income inequality experienced went well beyond fast food workers. “One-third of all bank tellers are so poorly paid that they receive public assistance,” as the screen capture from the study reveals.
As we have seen with Obamacare, in order to get our systems more egalitarian, everyone must pitch in. As Obamacare legislation has proved, making America a more equal economic system again won’t come easy and will be met with demagoguery from the usual suspects. Tea Party types don’t see the system stacked against some people. What they see is lazy Americans who won’t work hard enough.