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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Trinity Institute on Economic Inequality: a Preview

From this evening, January 22, through Saturday, we will be attending Trinity Institute at Trinity Church in Manhattan.  This year's theme name is Creating Common Good, and the majority of the discussion will be about economic inequality.  Speakers are people you may well have heard of: Cornel West, Juliet Schor and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to name a few.

Perhaps some of you are even attending via livestreaming into your own church or other center.  If you are at Trinity Church, let's try to find each other.

Next week, afterward, I will write at least one article on the content.  Friday's speakers highlight the problem of inequality and Saturday's program emphasizes actions to try to ameliorate it, such as better early-childhood education.

Meantime, a couple of facts on the broad topic:

For the five years through 2013, Census Bureau data show the most unequal distribution of income in the 60-year history of their calculations, measured by the so-called Gini Index, a composite gauge of income spread.  The top 5% of households have just over 22% of total money income.  Separate IRS figures show that the vaunted "1%" paid 38% of the income tax in 2012.  Median household income – that is, half of households are above and half below – was $51,939, down 8% in inflation-adjusted terms from the pre-recession level in 2007.  The share of the population with income below the poverty level was 14.5% in 2013.  This is an improvement from the 15% level of the previous three years; but in the mid-2000s, ahead of the recession, the rate hovered around 12.5%.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ("OECD") calculates that through 2012, the U.S. has a wider range of relative income spread, that is, a higher Gini Index, than 19 of the other 21 countries in that group.  Only Mexico and Turkey had showed more inequality in incomes.  All but two countries did experience steady or widening inequality over the previous 25 years, but only four countries showed a larger change than in the U.S.

A couple of our own recent articles have spoken to related issues.  We have noted a decline in labor force participation and an associated phenomenon called "job polarization".  Compared to historical patterns, people seem discouraged from seeking work, and some of that discouragement may be associated with a decrease in job opportunities in the middle-income range, such as factory work and office administration.  At least some post-high-school education or some re-orienting of high school course offerings toward mechanical skills seems needed.  We've also been concerned about poverty, which came to specific attention in the recent police killings.  Answers to this particular poverty situation involve better education as well and some kind of business investment – or at least business interest – in lower-income neighborhoods.

That type of material will be the subjects of Trinity Institute presentations, so we'll see if there are new, helpful solutions in the works.  Stay tuned!

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