Income Inequality

Income inequality has become an election issue for the 2016 presidential election, thanks to Democratic hopefuls like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. While it is extremely difficult to believe that these mainstream politicians really take income inequality seriously, (Hillary Clinton, for example, is a multimillionaire who has already increased her personal wealth by tens of millions of dollars in 2015 alone) they are right – income inequality is one of the most pressing issues facing America today.

Income inequality is the issue that ties together so many of the problems that Americans are struggling with – health care, outsourcing, crime, and more. When countries are ranked according to their income inequality, the United States has by far the worst inequality of any developed nation, and we have levels similar to South American and African countries like Uruguay, Ghana, Tunisia, and Nicaragua. The US is wealthier than these countries, and the standard of living for most Americans is better than most of the people in countries with similar levels of inequality.

However, this is only because these levels of inequality are relatively new for us. Income inequality in America has been skyrocketing since the 1970s, and it is showing no sign of slowing down. There are several predictable effects of high income inequality, including disenfranchisement of the population, rapidly deteriorating standards of living, and civil unrest. We still have time to turn this around, but every passing year that the Democrats and Republicans keep feeding the greed of the top 1%, America gets closer to the edge of the precipice.

There are several signs of the impending collapse brought about by looming income inequality:

1. Healthcare inequality

Alone among developed nations, America is the only country that does not guarantee health care to its citizens. Millions of Americans cannot afford health insurance and suffer miserable, third world-style health outcomes as a result. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year because they cannot afford the medical treatment that could save their lives, and life expectancy in many poor areas of the US is lower than in Algeria, Nicaragua, or Bangladesh. Additionally, out of the 17 most industrialized nations, we rank last in infant mortality. Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans can afford the best health care, and as a result, have a life expectancy that is ten years longer than the poorest Americans.

2. Justice inequality

An enormously disproportionate number of America’s citizens are behind bars. America imprisons 716 out of every 100,000 citizens. Countries we think of as brutal and authoritarian such as Russia, China, and Iran imprison significantly fewer of their citizens than we do. In fact, there is only one country in the world that imprisons more of its citizens than America does: North Korea. Additionally, it is the poorest Americans who are both most likely to be incarcerated and most likely to be a victim of crime. When wealthy Americans are accused of a crime, they are much more likely to be acquitted. When wealthy Americans are victims, they are much more likely to see justice and reparations.

3. Educational inequality

Most developed nations fund their public schools at a national level, but American schools are funded by their local populations. This means that schools in wealthy areas receive more funding and therefore provide better educations for their students, while schools in poor areas receive less funding and provide worse educations. This becomes a feedback loop in which students who attend poor schools are less likely to get into good colleges or get good jobs, meaning they stay poor and continue the cycle.

As billionaire entrepreneur Nick Hanauer wrote in his editorial The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats, “There is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.” If we want to preserve American society, we need to stop and reverse the rise in income inequality, and we need to act now. Join me in 2016, and together we will bring American back from the brink.