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Inequality for the Masses

Ilana Novick

If it were up to you, how would you split up income between the top 10% and the other 90%? How should a country's wealth be distributed, and why? And, if more Americans truly understood the impacts and extent of income inequality, would they be moved to do anything about it? 

Last week, The Economic Policy Institute with support from the Ford Foundation, created, an interactive website that illustrates the prevelance of inequality in America: how it is created and why, what it means for working Americans, and in a rare bright spot for this subject, how we can fix it.  

The site opens with a movable pie chart you can use to show the split. Then, they show you how your preference stacks up against reality, and then takes visitors to other pages where they can enter their age, gender, race, and education levels, and see what the average income is for someone in that demographic. You can compare that number to what you actually earn, and to what you might earn if you were a different race or gender.

It’s a simple, direct, and eye opening look into the lingering inequality between races and genders, and how much wages haven't kept up with productivity. 

As the website notes, “1 percent of Americans are taking home nearly 20 percent of the country's total income and own nearly 35 percent of the country's wealth. This means that you (yes, you!) are probably making less money than you deserve to. Inequality didn't happen by accident." 

In addition to all of the interactive activities and games on the site, also aims to provide users with ways to fight inequality. These are mostly macro level policies like trade agreements, financial regulations, more progressive tax policies, and education. 

But even if inequality didn't happen by accident, does that means Americans will want to do anything about it?

It seems that while Americans are now more than ever aware of income inquality, this awareness hasn't necessarily translated to a desire to change it.

Gallup poll taken in the fall of 2011, found that reducing the income and wealth gap was low on respondents’ list of priorities for government action. This was, as an April New York Times Op-Ed pointed out, the height of Occupy Wall Street's activity, though before Mitt Romney's 47% comments.

The authors of the Op-Ed, Ilyana Kuziemko and Stefanie Stantcheva, citing the results of their own study on perceptions of inequality, suggest that Americans' distrust of government and income restribution are the reason for the disconnect: "On one hand, liberals can take heart in the news that Americans are deeply troubled about the current level of income inequality. On the other hand, conservatives may be glad to hear that despite this concern, Americans have a healthy skepticism that government can be trusted to do much about it."'s best feature may lie in how it personalizes the issue, how the interactive features make the user realize just how much inequality affects their own lives. It's an important step to making sure Americans can understand that this isn't just an abstract problem. The question is whether they can be convinced that the government has a role in fighting it, and is capable of fulfilling that role.