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Inequality and the Public

Joseph Hines

Given stagnating wages and frustratingly high unemployment, it's unsurprising that popular opinion has turned against the rich. 

Inequality is not merely a material issue. It permeates our society in myriad, unpleasant ways. A new Pew Survey takes the temperature of the Americans on the rich, and most are not happy. A majority (65%) of respondents realize, and are 57% unhappy that, the distance between rich and poor has grown over the past decade. Beyond income, poorer respondents reported being more unhappy, less healthy, and less satisfied with their jobs. The survey finds material status to be correlated with well-being.

Particularly interesting is that most respondents think that the rich are less honest than the poor or middle-class. More than half saw the rich as greedier than other people, and a plurality believe they’re less honest. This underscores other surveys that find a record low amount of trust in institutions.

The Pew survey suggests that the upper-class is doing better than ever since the recession. A plurality, 42%, of those in the top income group say that they’re doing even better than they were in 2007, compared with 32% of middle-class and only 24% of the lower-class.

Finally, Americans think that the rich should pay more in taxes. Fifty-eight percent of respondents think that they pay too little. The survey does demonstrates how tax fairness has been politicized: 78% of Democrats think the rich pay too little compared to 33% of Republicans. Still, the Pew survey indicates that there is ample political support for a revenue-based solution to our deficits.

Taken in sum, these findings demonstrate that the gulf between rich and poor isn’t an abstraction. It has real societal implications. Policymakers ignore it at their own peril.