American Social Inequality

American Social Inequality

Most Americans have a keen sense of the presence of inequality. We learn about it in many ways on a daily basis, from our observations of people, homes, cars, neighborhoods, and news accounts of the “rich and famous.” There is good evidence that we start to learn about inequality at a very early age and accumulate additional knowledge throughout our lives. Most Americans are aware of different forms of inequality. They know about income inequality and the patterns of discrimination against women and racial and ethnic groups. This awareness can be traced to stories in the mass media or what they may have learned in classes in high school or college. Knowledge of inequality is often conveyed in stories about the gender gap in salary, or the homeless, or the number of children or older Americans living below the poverty line. But what about the social arrangements that produce inequality and are responsible for its persistence? A pervasive form of inequality cuts across age, race, ethnicity, and gender to confer privilege on a minority of Americans while relegating the rest to varying degrees of insecurity, need, or despair. This is class inequality, a structured system of unequal rewards that provides enormous advantages to a small percentage of people in the United States at the expense of the overwhelming majority. Inequality is contained within a class system that resembles a game of Monopoly that is “rigged” so that only a certain number of players have a chance to own Park Place, and a great many others go directly to jail. This discussion of class in America is a taboo subject because of the national reluctance to examine how the class system of the United States operates on a day-to-day basis. We do not learn from our schools or media how a privileged but organized minority of Americans is able to amass a disproportionate share of our national wealth and to transmit that privilege across generations to create a perman…


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