One of the most prominent grievances of those protesters in the 99 percent movement is America’s growing income inequality. The level of income inequality in the U.S. is currently the worst it has been since the Great Depression; over the last three decades, “the incomes of the bottom 90 percent of households have risen only slightly, on average, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have soared.” Since 1979, “the gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest fifths of the country more than tripled.”
During last night’s GOP presidential primary debate, the candidates were asked by the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty for their thoughts on this troubling trend. Instead of pointing to the true culprits — growing financialization of the economy, excessive executive compensation, dropping rates of unionization, tax cuts for the wealthy, and stagnant wages — Gov. Rick Perry (TX) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA) blamed, respectively, President Obama and single mothers:
TUMULTY: Governor Perry, over the last 30 years, the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has grown by more than 300 percent, and yet we have more people living in poverty in this country than at any time in the last 50 years. Is this acceptable? And what would you do to close that gap?
PERRY: The reason we have that many people living in poverty is because we have got a president of the United States who is a job- killer. That’s what’s wrong with this country today. You have a president who does not understand how to create wealth. He has over-taxed, over-regulated the small-business men and women to the point where they are laying off people. Two-and-half million Americans are out there who have lost their jobs. We have got 14 million without work. This president, I will suggest to you, is the biggest deterrent to getting this country back on track, and we have to do everything we can to replace Barack Obama in 2012.
ROSE: OK. But we are almost out of time. I want to give you a chance, and then we have to go the final questions.
SANTORUM: There is more to it than that. And I agree with Rick, what he said, but the biggest problem with poverty in America, and we don’t talk about here, because it’s an economic discussion — and that is the break down of the American family. You want to look at the poverty rate among families that have two — that have a husband and wife working in them? It’s 5 percent today. A family that’s headed by one person? It’s 30 percent today…We need to have a policy that supports families, that encourages marriage that has fathers take responsibility for their children. You can’t have limited government — you can’t have a wealthy society if the family breaks down, that basic unit of society.
Perry never did get around to explaining how a teenage Barack Obama was responsible for starting a growth in income inequality in the 1970s. A study released last week shows that severe income inequality actually hinders economic growth, while “making an economy’s income distribution 10 percent more equitable prolongs its typical growth spell by 50 percent.”