The ills inequality brings
It is possible to improve the lives of the poor, the middle class and the well off, by addressing one big problem. It turns out that reducing economic inequality can reduce a whole range of social problems, from teenage pregnancy and youth violence, to heart disease and depression.
Seattle Times staff columnist
It is possible to improve the lives of the poor, the middle class and the well off, by addressing one big problem.
It turns out that reducing economic inequality can reduce a whole range of social problems, from teenage pregnancy and youth violence, to heart disease and depression.
The authors of a new book say the world's rich countries have benefited about as much as they can from economic growth. Improvement in the quality of life now hinges on increasing economic equality.
We've long known that poor people have worse health problems, and more recent studies have demonstrated that in more unequal societies even wealthier people suffer health consequences, especially stress-related diseases.
Two British researchers, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, go beyond health and demonstrate links between inequality and many social problems that ultimately affect everyone.
They used data from 30 years of studies, including some of their own to prove the connections.
One of their collaborators, Dr. Stephen Bezruchka of the University of Washington School of Public Health, is trying to help get the word out. He introduced them to packed events in Seattle a few days ago when they spoke about their new book, "The Spirit Level."
In Britain, what we call a carpenter's level is a spirit level, but by either name it would show the United States is off kilter.
In chart after chart and graph after graph, the U.S. is stuck at the end of the line where great income inequality meets poor social outcomes.
Murder, teen pregnancy, school dropouts — we have more than our share by a wide margin. We spend huge amounts on health care and yet have shorter life expectancies than those in many wealthy countries in which income is lower but more equally distributed.
Just this week, U.S. bankers were announcing huge bonuses, while new unemployment figures undercut hopes for a quick recovery, and the latest statistics showed many Americans who are returning to the work force landed jobs that pay substantially less than what they'd earned before the recession.
In his foreword, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich writes that in the 1950s and 1960s, "CEOs of major American companies took home about 25 to 30 times the wages of the typical worker." But, he says, "by 2007, just before the Great Recession, CEO pay packages had ballooned to about 350 times what the typical worker earned."
Poor countries still need economic growth, but after a point, more money ceases to be about food and shelter. It is all about the excessive pursuit of status and the harm that can cause.
Wilkinson and Pickett feel so strongly about the damage inequality does to societies and the planet that they've made a crusade of getting the information out. They want to nourish the political will for change.
In Seattle, Bezruchka is convening a series of discussions of inequality and ways of influencing public policy. The next one is Jan. 20, 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at the Capitol Hill Library, 425 Harvard Ave. E.
Over the next few days, as we celebrate the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and so many other people who fought and fight for a more just society, we have proof of the things they believed in their hearts.
"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly," King said.
You may have money, but do you feel safe on the streets? The authors of "The Spirit Level" quote King in their call to action. "The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
email@example.com | 206-464-3346
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