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U.S. poverty, inequality gap widens
Posted Oct. 1, 2007

An astounding 58.5 percent of Americans fall below the poverty line at some point in their lives, said Mark Rank, professor at Washington University in St. Louis during his lecture "Poverty and Inequality in America – Why Care?" last Month.

The Humanities Institute at Scripps College in Claremont hosted Rank, who spoke on Poverty and Inequality for the classes, as part of a lecture series.

Along with the lecture series the Institute will also be having a documentary film series where they will analyze the causes and consequences of the steep increase in income and wealth gaps in the United States today.

Rank started the evening's lecture by giving a few statistics.

Rank said if a graph utilizing buildings compared the wealth of an average person with that of a wealthy person, the differences would be great. In 1940, for example, the average person would be a yard off the ground and the wealthy person would be nearly the height of the Eiffel Tower. Today the average person would be about a yard off the ground and the wealthy person would be at the top of Mt. Everest. The Eiffel Tower to Mt. Everest is a considerable jump in 57 years. This illustrates the inequalities that are happening today between the classes.

“I was shocked by the examples that Mark Rank gave us, showing the differences in the classes,” Johnny Botkin, a University of La Verne alumnus, said. “I always knew there was a gap between the rich and the poor, but I had no idea the extent of how big that gap was.”

“Between 20-65 years old, 60 percent of Americans will experience a year of being on the line of poverty,” Rank said. “The question isn’t really if people will experience poverty: It is when they will experience poverty.”

Rank focused on three fundamental reasons for this issue.

Self-interest is one of the reasons for paying attention to the wide gap between the classes. The citizens are paying steep taxes for having so many people in poverty due to the amount of money that the government has to pay for social problems.

When children do not succeed as adults, everyone pays. It takes more money to fix the problems that are happening now than to fix them before they happen. So we should address the problems before they arise, Rank said.

The principles and morals of America is another reason Rank feels America need to pay attention to the inequalities that are occurring. Liberty and justice for all, is the American ideal and for some reason it is only being applied to the wealthy. Poverty undermines our core values of life, liberty and happiness, Rank said. The United States has the greatest abundance of resources in the world yet fails to do anything about them.

For example some children are provided the cutting edge technology in school, while others are stuck with the basics because the schools don’t get enough funding from the government.

Citizenship is the third moral Rank feels is important to building a better America. It is the careful management of the environment and community around us. It is how Americans manage and maintain their environment. People must, as a community, engage in their duties to mold out futures by reducing poverty.

When looking at poverty in America you have to ask yourself, “What kind of society do we want to live in and create for our children?”

“There are two paths we can take: the one we are on and the one to better our lives and the lives of the future,” said Rank. “It is time for a new vision. Time for us to wake up and put America in a more kind living situation.”

Marin Hummel can be reached at mhummel@ulv.edu.