Opinion: California's Wealth Pyramid

Publication: Los Angeles Times

Author: Alissa Anderson and Jean Ross


11/23/2011 - The most durable message from the Occupy Wall Street encampments across the nation is also the simplest: "We are the 99%." But are the implications of that message fair? Is there a widening gap between rich and poor? Are those doing well just a fraction of the populace?

In the nation, and particularly in California, the answer is yes. We are living in an era of widening inequality, with income gains concentrated at the top, and most families in the state are falling behind.

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Income disparities cannot be dismissed as an inevitable byproduct of economic growth. To the contrary, the past generation represents a marked departure from earlier history. Between 1947 and 1973, the rising tide of national prosperity truly did lift all boats, with increases in average income being relatively even across all segments of the income distribution. Only since 1973 have income gains at the top outpaced those for the rest of the income distribution.

Nor can we take comfort in the belief that everyone has the same opportunity to ascend the income ladder. While the rags-to-riches tale is a cherished American tradition, research shows that one's ability to move up depends largely on family background — particularly, whether one grows up in an upper-income household. A study from the Economic Mobility Project, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that the United States actually has less economic mobility than many other industrialized nations.

Read the full opinion editorial, California's Wealth Pyramid, on the Los Angeles Times' Web site.

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