The 2016 U.S. presidential election is still more than a year away, but with President Barack Obama set to leave the White House, both political parties are staking out their ideological ground for election season. And already, income inequality is one of the biggest issues of the campaign.
During the Democratic debate, every candidate spoke out against rising income inequality in the country. At the same time, Republicans are either blaming the Obama administration for the trend or declaring it a non-issue altogether.
In the right-leaning New York Post, owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, an op-ed published October 18 boldly declared, “Wealth inequality isn’t a ‘crisis’ — and voters know it.”
“Inequality certainly is a symptom of a persistent underlying condition: It may be the leading cause of bulls–t in America today. To put it simply, there is no inequality crisis…Railing about inequality is also anti-intellectual, a shortcut for lazy thinkers,” wrote Post writer Kyle Smith.
Liberals disagree, obviously. In fact, socialist upstart Bernie Sanders has built his campaign on the issue of income inequality. While the morality and class politics of income inequality are up for debate, literally, the numbers are less ambiguous. According to the Pew Research Center, the wealthiest 10% of Americans own 80% of all stocks and mutual funds. Plus, by 2016, experts say the 1% will own more wealth than the rest of the world combined.
How does income inequality play out at the local level here in Rochester? According to the official Rochester Housing Market Study, the Monroe County median household income for the last census period was around $44,891, just above the national average. At the same time, the median income in Rochester city neighborhoods was $27,123, with neighborhoods like the 19th Ward reporting median income of just $12,000. Compared to the wealthier suburbs, city neighborhoods earned just 67%. During that time the poverty rate rose, with 51% of families with children below the poverty rate.
Despite this, Smith was correct when he noted that many Americans are deeply uncomfortable with open discussions about class and income. Even so, failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney took a major hit in the polls for his notorious 47% remarks.
Romney said that the poorest 47% of Americans “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That’s an entitlement. The government should give it to them.”
So while Republicans and Democrats may disagree on the major issues facing the country, there’s little doubt income inequality will be one of them come 2016.