Home > Uncategorized > Income Disparity Results in Life Expectancy Disparity, Pain Disparity… and Hope Disparity

Income Disparity Results in Life Expectancy Disparity, Pain Disparity… and Hope Disparity

Our local newspaper today features a commentary by Peter, Orszag, a Bloomberg View columnist and a vice chairman of investment banking at Lazard. Mr. Orszag also has extensive experience as an economic advisor at the federal level, having served as President Barack Obama’s director of the Office of Management and Budget from 2009 to 2010 and the director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2007 to 2008. In his commentary, Mr. Orszag reviews  Happiness for All? Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream, a book by Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution, which Orszag describes as “the empirical version of Hillbilly Elegy“.

In her book, Ms. Graham describes the many adverse effects of income disparity, linking it to life expectancy, the stress, and the experience of physical pain. As one would expect, those living in poverty have shorter life expectancies, experience more stress, and experience feelings of pain far more than those living in affluence. But what Ms. Graham found was that those differences are more marked than ever and are widening. And her findings are not an isolated piece of research: David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick, drew the same conclusions using a different data set. And Mr. Blanchflower and Mr. Oswald took the findings a step further and found that a consequence of the disparity is despair. Comparing US workers to those in Latin America where, sadly and astonishingly, income disparity is less than in our nation, they found that low-income American workers are less likely than their Latin American counterparts to believe that “hard work gets you ahead.”

These findings have a clear impact on public education. As noted repeatedly in previous posts, the majority of students in our nation attend public schools where disparate funding is the rule and not the exception. And, as noted repeatedly, the “reformers” who want to “fix our broken schools” effectively insist that it can be done without addressing the economic disparities that are the underlying cause. Some, in fact, would look at the findings of Ms. Graham, Mr. Blanchflower and Mr. Oswald as evidence that grit is needed more than money. The problem isn’t poverty, its the reaction to poverty… especially when that reaction is a rejection of the narrative that anyone can succeed if they just work harder.

Alas, Mr. Orszag’s neoliberalism— and that of the Brookings Institution’s Carol Graham— comes through in the concluding paragraph of his essay:

After illuminating striking differences across income groups in pain, hope, optimism and stress, Graham is correct in pointing out there are no easy fixes at hand. She’s also right to say that the best way to start to address the gaps is to work to better understand them.

Here both Mr. Orszag and Ms. Graham are wrong. We don’t more studies to understand how poverty is debilitating the spirits of millions of families and children. How income disparity undercuts our economy, our democracy, and the well being of our citizens. We need to begin closing the gap in economic disparity by transferring some of the wealth from the .1 percent to the 99.9% who have been short-changed. And both Mr. Orszag and Ms. Graham should be making the point that Congress’ most recent actions are going to only make matters worse. But they, I assume, will wait for more data to come in showing that as the income disparity increases the differences in well-being between the haves and have-nots increases as well.

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