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Income Inequality in American Society

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    Vast disparities in wealth and income have long been an issue dating all the way back to ancient Athens. This dilemma of income inequality is still prevalent in today’s society, and more specifically in the United States. For example, through the economic recovery after the market collapse in 2008, the rich got richer. Basically, the recovery benefited the top earners in America’s economic system more than the bottom earners. This idea of the rich getting richer was not a new one; truthfully, it has been a relatively common notion throughout the history of the economic system of the United States. In fact, “in the United States, the top 10% receive more than 50% of total income” (Amadeo 2020). Also, according to Emmanuel Saez, an economist from UC Berkeley, the Americans that are in the top 10 percent are earning an average of 9 times more than the Americans in the other 90 percent. This gap becomes even wider when analyzing the top 1 and 0.1 percent of Americans who are averaging over 39 times and an astounding 196 times more income, respectively, than the Americans in the bottom 90 percent (“Income Inequality”). The numbers and data regarding the income and wealth disparities throughout American society are nothing less than staggering. With the gap between the rich and poor continuing to widen, people tend to claim that this massive disparity is unfair and stems from corruption of the economic system. Oftentimes the word injustice is thrown around in regards to the excessive disparities in economic inequality; however, this gap between the rich and poor can be justified.

    For a society to be considered just, everyone must be treated equally. In democratic societies, and more specifically the United States, this concept of equality is championed. It was so significant that in one of, if not the most important document in the history of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the first truth listed before all others is that “all men are created equal”. However, this equality only applies to some key aspects and not others. It would be an injustice to treat everybody the same in the aspects where they are clearly different. However, what are the key aspects where everybody is equal? One of the most simple of these aspects is life itself. Every human life has equal value regardless of the state that it is in. This means that regardless of age, condition, or even income, each and every life has the same value and is deserving of respect. Because every life has equal value, every person has the right to be included and contribute to society. Also another aspect, referencing back to the Declaration of Independence and the unalienable rights listed, every person has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Meaning that every person must be treated equally in these endeavors. It would be an injustice to infringe upon these rights and to treat people unequally under the law. Basically, every person has equal worth as a human being, but this does not mean that every person must be treated equally in every sense and situation. James Wilson, one of the original supreme court justices and one of the 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, summarizes this in a statement:

    “When we say that all men are equal, we mean not to apply this equality to their virtues, their talents, their dispositions, or their acquirements. In all these respects, there is, and it is fit for the great purposes of society that there should be, great inequality among men… there is still one aspect, in which all men in society, previous to civil government, are equal. With regard to all, there is an equality in rights and in obligations… The natural rights and duties of man belong equally to all” (Equality: James Wilson)

    Wilson believes that people are created equally in regards to the worth and value of their life. He also believes that this equality also stems to the law and the rights of the person. However, because people are not equal in the other aspects of life it would be an injustice to treat them all equally in those aspects.

    With the ideas of justice and equality established, the American economic system and the excessive economic inequality can be analyzed for injustice. Every person being created equal applies only to the value of a person’s life and their dignity under the law, but not to the other aspects of life. Knowing this, in order to have an economic system that is considered just, both the equalities and the aspects of people that are not equal must be taken into account. This means that since the value of a person’s life and their dignity are equal to others, in order to have a just economic system this value and dignity has to be maintained. In other words, the United States must set a minimum requirement that upholds a person’s value and dignity and then ensure that it is upheld. Since the United States economic system is so well-developed and established, there is no excuse for citizens to be neglected while they suffer or starve. Every person must have access to essential resources in order to sustain their life in American society. Some of these essential resources are in the form of welfare programs: SNAP or food stamps for food provisions, Medicaid for healthcare, subsidized housing and public housing programs for housing, and Welfare or TANF for financial assistance (“Government Benefits”). By providing the minimum essential resources, the basic human equality of those who are struggling are cared for. However, as mentioned earlier, in order for an economic system to be just the inequalities of people must also be taken into account and respected. Meaning, people are free to exercise, facilitate, and apply the qualities and talents that make them different from others. Also, anything that is acquired through the exercising of these qualities or talents, such as wealth or property, is protected. For an economic system to be just, the needs of the poor must be cared for while also not infringing upon the rights of the rich.

    Although excessive economic inequalities are often labeled as unjust, the vast disparities in wealth and income are justified. The injustices of the American economic system do not lie within the excessive economic inequality, but in the underlying factors that lead to this disparity. There are a multitude of factors that widen the gap between rich and poor everyday. Cheap labor in foreign countries forces American companies and manufacturers to outsource jobs in order to save money and stay competitive. Also, failing education systems leave thousands upon thousands of students trapped and disenfranchised. Illegal immigrants often fill lower end service positions but because of their illegal status have little to no bargaining power to demand higher wages or better benefits. Finally, the rise of technology has left many workers, and more specifically those who work in factories, out of a job due to companies attempting to save money by automating and streamlining processes. These underlying factors like the outsourcing of jobs, failing education systems, and the rise of technology are where the true injustices can be found, but the actual gap itself is not unjust.

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