Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Those on Top Need to Remember the Bottom

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Those on Top Need to Remember the Bottom

Article excerpt

Growing income inequality is actually a really wonderful thing--for me. Personally.

In President Barack Obama's forceful speech last month about the widening gap between rich and poor, he noted that someone born in the top 20 percent of income earners has a very solid two-in-three chance of staying there.

Great news for me! And my kids! I fit into that income category--so my kids are basically set for life. A smooth ride here on out. And let me make this point clear--we did it all on our own. We got no help from anyone, let alone some wasteful government program that is really a thin disguise for radical income distribution.

But wait. A memory keeps peeking in through the fog as I write this--I try to battle it back with a swig of high-end vodka sipped from a cut-crystal tumbler. It is persistent. The distant memory is this.

I was born into the bottom 80 percent myself. Today, someone like me would have less than a one-in-20 chance of ever moving out and up economically. I am, by all accounts, simply lucky. In the 1960s and '70s, when I was growing up, income inequality was not an over-whelming factor in American life. As the president pointed out, a CEO back then earned about 20 to 30 times the salary of an average worker: now he makes 273 times more.

And the social safety net, even for a working-class man like my father, was stronger: College costs had not yet skyrocketed; state and federal 1 tuition programs further softened the hardship. A house wasn't a king's ransom and mortgage loans were something you could actually count on year after year--the banks were boringly stable. …

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