by Christian Lopez, Guest Opinion Writer and Truman Student
I consider myself lower middle class in terms of socio-economic status, and even though this is still better off than most of the world’s population, I believe it nonetheless lends me some perspective on the matter of the so-called “1 percenters” versus the rest of the population, regarding the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States.
Two years ago or so, a fairly notorious movement spread around the world based upon the actions of protesters on Wall Street, namely the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. This activist group originated in various circumstances, such as people being fed up by how a minority of the population controls a majority of the total income, the worldwide economic meltdown that started in 2008 and the increasing rate of unemployment in the U.S. These people focused their protests on increasing awareness about this wealth disparity, and they asserted that it was unfair for the other 99 percent of the population.
But I believe the wealthy do, in fact, take notice of their status in comparison to the lower class, as demonstrated by the various foundations being established around the world in addition to numerous other philanthropic efforts, such as the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet Giving Pledge campaign, which is exemplary of their commitment to helping the less fortunate and which goes to show that we are not being completely abandoned by our most fortunate figures.
However, improvements could still be made in order to resolve the immense disparity between rich and poor, including increasing wages for low-skilled jobs and higher taxes on the rich in order to reduce the burden on the rest of the population. After all, the self-made billionaires did not get to where they are on their own, and thus it is in their best interests to prevent mass outrage by assisting in solutions to the problem.
Other options remain, however, that could potentially improve the majority of Americans’ financial situation, and one in particular has come to light recently. Fast food workers around the nation have been campaigning for higher minimum wages because, by most accounts, the current minimum wage is insufficient to make a decent living. Realistically speaking, living on a $7.25-per-hour wage even when working full time while living in a large city where the cost of living is fairly high can prove to be almost impossible.
If these strikes are successful, I believe they may well serve as a stepping stone towards increasing wages across the board in low-skill low-pay jobs. If not, there is always the option of increasing taxes on the rich in order to reduce stress on the less fortunate. This option is likely to be met with fierce opposition, however, by some of the richest people who do not share Bill Gates’s philanthropic interests. Whatever steps are taken will need to have a noticeable effect, and quickly, before the world faces yet another financial disaster where I suspect that measures taken by the 99 percenters will not be simply limited to peaceful demonstrations.
While I am fortunate enough to live in the U.S. and to dedicate myself fully to being a student, I am still aware of the hardships endured by the less fortunate not only in this country, but around the globe as well. And so, even if the situation of wealth disparity has not necessarily improved since the end of the recession, I am still hopeful that there will eventually be a resolution, whether it is through the efforts of our wealthier citizens, tax reforms, wage increases or other possibilities. In the end, the only path to progress is not through class conflict, but through mutual understanding and cooperation.
(See the following video from the Economic Policy Institute for more information on wealth inequality in America.)