Pope Francis and Barack Obama have joined the voices of many economists raising the alarm about growing income inequality. A new Bloomberg National Poll released Wednesday finds that that by a more than two-to-one margin, Americans say the U.S. no longer offers everyone an equal chance to get ahead. Some say the government isn’t doing much to help.
The richest 10 percent of Americans last year earned more than half of all income, the largest total since 1917, according to Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.
In the Bloomberg poll, 68 percent of Americans say the income gap is growing, while 18 percent say it is unchanged and 10 percent say it’s shrinking.
According to the poll all income groups are concerned. It found 60 percent of those whose annual income is over $100,000 a year bemoan the absence of a fair deal while 39 percent say everyone has an equal shot to advance. However the lack of faith in the income gap is greatest among those making less than $50,000 a year. By a 73 percent to 24 percent margin, they say the economy is unfair.
The U.S. does less to reduce inequality through tax and transfer policies than most advanced nations, including the U.K., Ireland or Spain, according to Janet Gornick, a professor of political science and sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center reported by David J. Lynch of Bloomberg.
Higher income groups still believe the “markets” will solve the problem rather than government policies. That belief has not proven true in the last 40 years. During that time there has been a steady increase in income equality.—both in good times for the “markets,” and bad the Saez study found.
Pope Francis sounded an alarm about the situation attacking “trickle-down economics” specifically. That is the theory embraced by Republicans since Ronald Reagan that says that the richer people at the top get, the more that wealth will trickle down to those below. Clearly, the rich have never been richer, and the rest have never been worse off. It does not work and has never worked—except for the rich.
From 1993 to 2012, the top 1 percent has enjoyed an increase of 86.1 percent in annual income, with the rest of us getting 6.6 percent. That means the top 1 percent received 68 percent of total income growth over the period — a high figure, but much lower than the whopping 95 percent from 2009 to 2012 according to Emmanuel Saez.
The poll found the Pope’s recent remarks resonated with both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. By 56 percent to 35 percent, they endorse his criticism of “trickle-down” economics, which provides tax cuts for the wealthy as a means to spur job growth. Respondents to the poll agree that government leaders should pay more attention to income inequality and less to the needs of the market by 64 percent to 27 percent. Furthermore 66 percent of respondents have a favorable view of the pontiff compared with just 13 percent who view him unfavorably.
“I think he’s spot on,” says Donald Gottesman, 48, a foundation executive in Los Angeles. “I’m Jewish, so I don’t have any particular reverence for the pope. But he’s really thinking about what’s happening out there and trying to speak from his pulpit and cause change.”
President Obama’s poll numbers, while still not great, have improved since he spoke out about income inequality. Obama’s approval is up 5 percent to 42 percent and his disapproval is down 7 percent to 50 percent in a new poll from The New York Times/CBS News. This rating nearly matches Pew Research’s finding of 45 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval. Both are marked improvements from lows in November.
Gallup’s daily tracking poll shows the president’s numbers rising slightly as well, with his disapproval falling under 50 percent for the first time since October.
This is a serious issue, but we can’t expect Congress to do anything about it. This will only change if Americans change Congress. Americans traditionally hate Congress, but keep re-electing their own congressman even if that individual sells them out with policies that favor the top 1%. Unfortunately, money buys elections.