Income inequality isn’t a new story – it’s been on the rise since the mid 20th century. The top 1% of income earners control 20% of our national wealth, with their share of wealth doubling since 1980. The U.S. ranks 4th in the world for income inequality, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.
A new poll from USA Today and Pew Research Center looked at Americans’ attitudes on the wealth-gap and found broad concern for the growing disparity between rich and poor and a disappearing middle class.
As the president delivers the televised address Tuesday, he’ll be speaking to a country filled with people who are cautiously optimistic that the economy is improving but not at all sure its benefits are going to reach them. Nearly six in 10 say their family income is falling behind the cost of living, and another third say they are staying even. Just 7% feel they’re gaining ground.
Indeed, at a time when Republicans and Democrats disagree about almost everything, on this there is virtually no partisan gap: 61% of Republicans, 68% of Democrats and 67% of independents think economic inequality has been growing in the United States over the past decade.
The poll also showed wide support for government action to close the gap between rich and poor and tackle systemic poverty.
Seven in 10 say the government should take steps to reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else. There is considerable faith that it could have a significant effect. Four in 10 say it could have a lot of impact; another three in 10 say it could have some.
Support is even higher for government action against poverty: 82% say the government should take steps to reduce poverty, and 77% say government politics and programs can have an impact.
Not surprisingly, the report showed Congress is egregiously out-of-step with the majority of Americans on issues concerning unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage.
Under such circumstances, it’s no surprise that the poll found overwhelming support for extending federal benefits for the long-term unemployed — 63% are in favor of that idea — and for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10; 73% support that. Both proposals are stalled in Congress.
In Washington, income inequality has been on the rise for about three decades, largely due to 30 years of stagnated wages. Workers in Washington are more likely than other Americans to experience downward economic mobility, and our state’s fastest growing sectors are low-wage, service jobs that don’t pay the family wages they used to.
EOI recently published Chutes and Ladders: How economic mobility is changing in an inequality society, a report on the local impacts of income inequality in Washington state. Read the full report here.