The cost of inequality

The legacy of apartheid was laid bare in this piece showing how the landscape of Cape Town and Durban, South Africa has been shaped by 50 years of institutional racism and apartheid: http://www.psfk.com/2016/07/drone-photography-captures-how-apartheid-has-shaped-south-african-cities.html.

It made me wonder whether the inequality in other cities is as visible? More often whether visible or not it’s the resulting unequal opportunity which makes such stark inequality hard to stomach. We’d like to think a kid born into poverty, or even the low end of the middle class, has as good a chance of success, however you define it, as a kid born into wealth if he’d only study hard and work harder still. Unfortunately, the reality is often very different, as these images and the article below demonstrate.

And what’s shocking to me, is that it’s way, WAY worse than we think it is:

"Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful. Different groups of Americans have different levels of opportunity. Those born to the middle class have about an equal chance of moving up or down the income ladder, according to the Economic Mobility Project. But those born to black middle-class families are much more likely than their white counterparts to fall in rank. The children of the rich and poor, meanwhile, are less mobile than the middle class’s. More than 40% of those Americans born in the bottom quintile remain stuck there as adults."


And before you dismiss this as leftist junk from the economist, consider this from the Brookings Institute, which suggests that even ignoring the impact of unequal access to education or other sources of opportunity, the levels of inequality we currently have create a vicious cycle where perceiving success as beyond their reach, economically disadvantaged kids just give up and become trapped in poverty, damning themselves and their offspring:


"What we may be seeing here is what we have described as an “economic despair” model. As the gap between the bottom and middle of the income distribution widens, middle-class life and economic success feel increasingly out of reach to kids from economically disadvantaged households. They therefore lose the motivation to stay in school and try to make that climb. In other words, though higher levels of income inequality might drive some adolescents and young adults to work even harder—inequality might also have an offsetting “desperation” effect on low-income kids, leading them to simply “drop out.”

Surely, something has to give.


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