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Our Gilded Age

Our Gilded Age

Americans’ Views On Income Inequality



Add this stunning figure to the long list of evidence detailing the extent of the yawning economic gap between the wealthy and everyone else: Oxfam calculates that the 85 richest people have as much as wealth as the bottom 50 percent of the world’s population — 3.5 billion people.

Thanks in part to incredible numbers like these, Americans have become more aware of income inequality and want an economy that works for everyone, not the just richest few, since we know the economy doesn’t actually work when it’s only working for the wealthy. A new poll from USA Today/Pew Research Center released today confirmed this — and demonstrated that a wide majority of Americans believe that government can and should play an important role to reduce the gap.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

1. Americans broadly agree that the income gap has increased. Among those polled, 65 percent think that gap between the rich and everyone else has increased over the last 10 years. And factually, they would be correct. Take a look at the chart below showing how the rich keep getting richer through the economic recovery:


2. A vast majority want government to do something about it. Americans disagree with the Republicans in Congress who continue to insist that government can’t help alleviate income inequality. In fact, seven in ten respondents believe the government should play a role in helping reduce this gap — 43 percent saying “a lot.” Meanwhile, a similar 38 percent think government programs and policies can do “a lot” to reduce the income gap.



3. The government can and should reduce poverty. In the survey, 82 percent of respondents said that the government should do “a lot” or “some” to reduce poverty. Almost the same number (77 percent) said that government policies and programs can do “a lot” or “some” to reduce poverty.

4. A majority doesn’t buy the argument that being poor has to do with lack of effort. In fact, when it comes to what gets the blame if a person is poor, there is a 15-point edge for “circumstances beyond his or her control” over “lack of effort.” A strikingly similar margin exists on Americans opinion when it comes to more to do with a person being rich: 51 percent cite “more advantages in life than most other people,” while just 38 percent say “worked harder than most other people.”



5. Policies that will lift people out of poverty and reduce income inequality have strong support. An overwhelming 73 percent of respondents favor raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 — including a majority (53 percent) of Republicans. Americans disagree with Republicans in Congress who recently refused to extend emergency unemployment insurance to millions of Americans — 63 percent would like to see that program extended for another year. And finally, 54 percent overall would raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations to expand programs for the poor.

This new poll confirms the findings of other research, including a recent poll and report from our colleagues at the Half in Ten project.

BOTTOM LINE: Income inequality is as bad as it’s ever been in this country. But Americans do believe that there are things we can and should do to help reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else in order to create an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few. And economy that works for everyone will benefit everyone: it’s as simple as that.