Class Is a Five-Letter Dirty Word: The Lack of Class Consciousness in an Era of Record Inequality

From Truth Out:

By Anthony DiMaggio
Friday, 01 February 2013

Until Americans’ awareness catches up to the realities of the increasing US class divide, shrinking life opportunities for the majority and disappearance of social mobility, we will be unable to address the problems of high unemployment and economic stagnation.

It’s no secret that inequality today is at its highest level since 1929. Countless commentators lament record high inequality as a danger to our society and to American prosperity – a point that even establishment papers like The New York Times are now acknowledging. In an October 2012 story, for example, the paper warned that ” income inequality may take [a] toll on growth,” and reported that ” a growing body of economic research suggests that it might mean lower levels of economic growth and slower job creation in the years ahead.”

Political scientists are focusing attention on the dangers of growing economic inequality as a threat to political participation. As income and wealth inequality increase, Americans are forced to work longer and longer hours to make ends meet. This leaves less time to pay attention to the news and the world around us, and it means that the poor and working class are less likely to follow politics, and less inclined to participate in basic civic obligations like voting. As political scientist Frederick Solt points out, it’s no coincidence the United States has the highest levels of economic inequality in the first world, and the lowest level of political participation.1

It’s not difficult to understand the concerns of those who study this issue closely. Income inequality is at its greatest level since The Great Depression, with the top one percent of Americans capturing an astounding 93 percent of all annual income gains in the post-2008 era. This represents a dramatic acceleration of an already extreme trend from the 1980s through the 2000s, when the top one percent captured one-sixth of all income created, and the top 10 percent captured approximately one half of created wealth.

More than 30 years of extreme inequality in earnings have produced similar extremes concerning the concentration of wealth. Recent statistics suggest the top one percent of Americans hold 34.5 percent of all wealth. The top 10 percent hold 74.5 percent of all wealth, and the top 20 percent (one in five Americans) hold about 85 percent.2

Estimates for the rest of America are quite sobering as well: In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the bottom 40 percent of Americans are estimated to have zero percent of all wealth, while the bottom half hold a miniscule 1.1 percent.3

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