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Amy Traub

The Problem with Inequality

Wealthy people, we are told, are feeling the pain of economic hard times. The financial crisis hit the banking sector hard. The stock market plummeted, decimating hefty financial portfolios. Wall Street suffered layoffs. Yacht sales are way down. The market for Nantucket real estate is just terrible.

But if you imagined that the superrich might actually be losing more ground than the rest of us, that one silver lining to the economic crisis might be less inequality, you would be wrong. As the return to mega-bonuses on Wall Street suggests, data show the rich are still getting richer. In fact inequality is on the rise: America's wealthiest ten percent now take home nearly half of country's total earnings according to Bureau of Labor Statistics economist James Spletzer.

A new book by British scientists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett cast light on one frequently overlooked reason to be concerned about growing inequality: public health and wellbeing. "Economic growth has done as much as it can to improve material conditions in the developed countries," sums up Lynsey Hanley in the Guardian, now public health demands that we distribute resources more equally. Building on thirty years worth of statistical analysis, the authors conclude that less equal societies suffer worse health, more violence, greater incidence of mental illness, higher teen pregnancy rates, and a host of other social ills. The wealthy but highly unequal United States, with its disproportionately poor public health outcomes compared to other developed countries - from high rates of obesity to per capita shorter average lifespan - is exhibit number one. What's more, these ills impact not only the poor but the middle class and wealthy as well. It turns out, inequality harms everyone.

Authors Wilkinson and Pickett will be speaking about their research at 6pm this evening at Demos. Click here to watch a live webcast.

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Posted at 1:23 PM, Jan 14, 2010 in Economy
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