In the past few decades in the United States, the wealth of the richest few has grown substantially, while the middle class has shrunk, and the poorest have gotten poorer. These growing inequalities in overall wealth extend to, and mirror, growing inequalities in access to quality education. The poor get poorer, and those who are poor, and their children, have fewer opportunities to escape poverty. Severe economic inequality, especially when combined with decreasing economic mobility, is not only unjust, but is also indicative of a system that is prone to increasingly severe economic crises, and that is, ultimately, unsustainable.
The Occupy Wall Street movement opposes a system that allows 1% of the population to control over one-third of the wealth. It opposes a system in which the lowest 40% control much less than .5% of the wealth. It opposes a system that increasingly reduces opportunities for economic mobility.
The United Faculty of Evergreen are part of the 99%, as are those we teach. More and more of the 99%, however, are finding it difficult to attend state schools like Evergreen. Tuition at Evergreen, and around Washington State, now regularly increases by about 14% a year. State funding, which only four years ago accounted for 65% of Evergreen’s budget, now accounts for only 35% (and this figure is likely to drop soon). The result is a de facto privatization of public higher education. The students still able to afford tuition often do so by putting themselves severely in debt, and while in school they receive reduced services from state institutions due to cuts in staff, services, equipment, and more.
While the fact of economic inequality in the U.S. is well-known, the extent of this economic inequality has not been so well-known. A 2010 study found that the overwhelming majority of respondents vastly underestimated the wealth held by the top 20% (which held 85% of total wealth at the time of the study), and even more vastly overestimated the wealth held by the bottom 40% (which held .3% of total wealth).
With this context in mind, The United Faculty of Evergreen supports the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and its local manifestations in Olympia, Tacoma, and Seattle. The Occupy movement has correctly identified growing economic inequality as a destructive, unjust, and disturbingly advanced tendency of our age. And the Occupy movement has opened a wider public conversation, deepening popular awareness of this tendency and of its causes. In this sense, the movement has already been successful. We wish it even greater success.
Some related readings:
Congressional Budget Office. (2011, October). Trends in the distribution of household income between 1979 and 2007. Retrieved from http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=12485
Corak, M., Curtis, L., Phipps, S. (2010, March). Economic mobility, family background, and the well-being of children in the United States and Canada. (IZA Discussion Paper No. 4814). Retrieved from http://ftp.iza.org/dp4814.pdf.
DeParle, J., Gebeloff, R., and Tavernise, S. (2011, November 18). Older, suburban, and struggling, ‘near poor’ startle the census. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/19/us/census-measures-those-not-quite-in-poverty-but-struggling.html
Domhoff. G. W. (2011). Who rules America: Wealth, income, and power. Retrieved from http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica
Feller, A. and Stone, C. (2009). Top 1 percent of Americans reaped two-thirds of income gains in last economic expansion: Income concentration in 2007 was at highest level since 1928, new analysis shows. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2908.
McCall, L. (2011, March 23). Room for debate: Americans aren’t naïve. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/03/21/rising-wealth-inequality-should-we-care/americans-arent-naive-about-income-inequality.
Moyers, B. (2011, November 21). How Wall Street occupied America. The Nation.
Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2011, January). Building a better America – one wealth quintile at a time. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6 (1), 9-12.
Rampell, C. (2011, March 30). Inequality is most extreme in wealth, not income. The New York Times: Economix Blog. Retrieved from http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/inequality-is-most-extreme-in-wealth-not-income.
Rampell, C. (2011, November 3). Growing economies, stagnant wages. The New York Times: Economix Blog. Retrieved from http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/growing-economies-stagnant-wages.
Reich, R. (2011, September 4). [Untitled graphic]. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/09/04/opinion/04reich-graphic.html?ref=sunday
Smidt, C.D. (2011, September). Not all news is the same: Protests, presidents, and the mass public agenda. Public Opinion Quarterly. Advance Access published September 07, 2011, doi: 10.1093/poq/nfr019. Retrieved from http://news.msu.edu/media/documents/2011/09/4267d927-da6c-4352-bb39-22edcbfedd18.pdf
Smith, Ben (2011, November 11). Occupy Wall Street is winning. Politico. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1111/Occupy_Wall_Street_is_winning.html
Tavernise, S. (2011, November 15). Middle-class neighborhoods shrinking, report finds. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/16/us/middle-class-areas-shrink-as-income-gap-grows-report-finds.html?_r=1&hp
Wolff, E N. (2010, May). Recent trends in household wealth in the United States: Rising debt and the middle-class squeeze—an update to 2007. (Levy Economics Institute of Bard College Working Paper No. 589). Retrieved from http://www.levyinstitute.org.
(2011, Fall). Private funding takes center stage. Evergreen Express. Retrieved from http://www.evergreen.edu/alumni/express/fall2011/funding.htm.