Regardless of your race, gender and wealth, social inequality has a negative impact on all of us
The social stratification in the United States is at an overwhelming and alarming high. Many believe the reasons for the massive inequality lie in the political structure of our government, and the effects of these socio-economic gaps play a significantly large role in terms of housing, employment and standards of living. To understand how this has happened, we have to look back through our history.
According to Paul Krugman, middle class society did not evolve gradually. It was created by our government during the Roosevelt administration, in the late 1930’s through the end of World War II. Once the new institutions and norms were created, they continued to exist, and modify. When Reagan took office in 1980, there was a sharp increase in social inequality that is unique to the United States.
The economic inequalities that exist today are tremendous, with the elite, richest one percent of U.S. families worth more than the entire bottom 90 percent of Americans and own nearly 37 percent of all the nation’s wealth. CEO’s earn 331 times more than the average U.S. workers. Author James M. Henslin claims that since 1970, the richest 20% of families have grown richer, and the poorest 20% have grown poorer.
What does this mean in terms of housing, employment and overall standards of living? The U.S. government seemingly created the massive stratification in our society in several ways, with the breakdown of unions, and redlining the most prominent and influencing means of doing so.
In his “Opportunity is Racialized” video, John Powell speaks of race and power, and makes the statement that blacks and poor individuals are 10 times more likely to live in poverty areas than whites. He blames this on the government redlining, which began in 1935. The new structure, in effect, allowed for discrimination based on race when obtaining loans, leaving the African American community unable to purchase homes in nicer neighborhoods.
In the 1990’s, the government began reverse redlining, making sure that minority groups were able to obtain funding for homes. The cost of subprime loans instigated further poverty-ridden neighborhoods, which have become havens for drug dealing, crime, and the reluctance of people to invest in those areas. The reversal of redlining became a way of segregating, denying opportunity to minorities.
The social determinants of health are a huge factor in the difference between the wealthy and the poor. Poverty and social exclusion have a major impact on health and premature deaths. Those in poverty are denied full participation in society, including full access to decent housing, education, adequate health care, and transportation. The stress of living in poverty is physiologically harmful, causing depression, cardiovascular issues, and a myriad of other health problems. Living in poverty has also been shown to have higher divorce rates, disabilities, and substance abuse.
Those down the rungs of the ladder of social status also suffer from the inequality of employment opportunities, and workloads themselves. The top of the rung capitalists have the decision-making power, and less physical workloads, while the workers have little to no decision-making power, and all of the physical workloads, again, causing health concerns for the working class. The threat of unemployment is always a mental and physiological concern for the worker, while never a concern for the capitalists.
The second edition of The Solid Facts claims that alcohol abuse, illegal drugs, and cigarette smoking are “closely associated with markers of social and economic disadvantage… people turn to alcohol to numb the pain of harsh social and economic conditions, and alcohol dependence leads to downward social mobility.”
Paul Piff, in his research with the game Monopoly, found the attitudes of the players could correlate with the realities of the wealthy and poor. He states “And as the game went on, one of the really interesting and dramatic patterns that we observed begin to emerge was that the rich players actually started to become ruder toward the other person, less and less sensitive to the plight of those poor, poor players, and more and more demonstrative of their material success, more likely to showcase how well they’re doing.”
Class membership is expressed in wealth, or lack thereof. It affects one’s choice of spouse, likelihood of divorce, children, education, religious affiliation, political participation, crime, and health. The richer the rich become, while the poor become poorer and worse off. The effects of social inequality has everything to do with feelings of superiority and inferiority, respect and disrespect, and whether we are judged, or not judged, instills feelings of status insecurity in all classes. The rich look down upon the poor, while the poor are hypercritical of the rich.
The consequences of social inequality are mind-numbing and too numerous to encompass in a simple blog post. I’ll sum this up with one sentence from a comment on an excerpt of the PBS video People Like Us, “So what changed to turn us into rude, judgmental, prejudice groups of people who allow possessions to define the quality of our hearts?”