Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis And What We Can Do About It says factors that have enriched the top one percent of Americans, sometimes at the expense of the other 99 percent, constitute only half of the story of income inequality in the United States. Writing in The New York Times, Noah points out that p
eople without a college education are faring more poorly than in the past. He says:
Since 1979 the income gap between people with college or graduate degrees and people whose education ended in high school has grown. Broadly speaking, this is a gap between working-class families in the middle 20 percent (with incomes roughly between $39,000 and $62,000) and affluent-to-rich families (say, the top 10 percent, with incomes exceeding $111,000). This skills-based gap is the inequality most Americans see in their everyday lives.
Conservatives don’t typically like to talk about income inequality. It stirs up uncomfortable questions about economic fairness. (That’s why as a candidate Mitt Romney told a TV interviewer that inequality was best discussed in “quiet rooms.”) On those rare occasions when conservatives do bring it up, it’s the skills-based gap that usually draws their attention, because it offers an opportunity to criticize our government-run system of public education and especially teachers’ unions.
Liberals resist talking about the skills-based gap because they don’t want to tell the working classes that they’re losing ground because they didn’t study hard enough. Liberals prefer to focus on the 1 percent-based gap. Conceiving of inequality as something caused by the very richest people has obvious political appeal, especially since (by definition) nearly all of us belong to the 99 percent. There’s also a pleasing simplicity to the causes of the growing gap between the 1 and the 99. There are only two, and both are familiar liberal targets: the rise of a deregulated financial sector and the erosion of accountability in compensating top executives outside finance. (The cohort most reflective of these trends is actually the top 0.1 percent, who make $1.6 million or more, but let’s not quibble.)
Some of the solutions to this problem have had bipartisan support in the past, Noah says, but others, including the strengthening of labor unions, would meet stiff resistance in some quarters.
What is the role of the church in the debate over inequalities of wealth and income?