A Curious Bystander

Megan Chrisler, Staff Writer

President Barack Obama and other Democrats in Washington have recently shifted focus to economic inequality. Obama has supported a federal minimum wage increase to about $10 an hour—the current is $7.25—and, of course, the Democratic Party has always been stereotypically the party of the lower classes. Republicans say that this is merely a political move to distract from the botched healthcare rollout.

Republicans, as whiny as they have become in recent years, could very well be right. Who, after all, isn’t aware of the strategic game of politics? And who actually believes that many of those politicians, no matter what side of the aisle, are there solely to fight for the rights of their constituents? (For those of you who just said “I do,” go watch Netflix’s original series, House of Cards). Something has to make up for the healthcare fiasco, which even Democrats have to admit was, at best, slightly embarrassing.

On the other hand, economic inequality is a major issue of the twenty-first century. There truly is a huge divide between the rich and the poor, more so than there was in the last half of the twentieth century. Research suggests that social mobility is not as easy as most Americans think. Most people who are raised in poor, uneducated homes have the most likely chances of becoming poor and uneducated themselves, while those who have the resources to become well-off are, obviously, the well-off. Minimum wage naturally becomes an issue in regards to this. As cost of living rises, minimum wage gradually becomes insufficient to sustain individuals and families. Not only that, but there are still some states that either are below the federal standard or who have no minimum wage standard set; these states include Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Wyoming, among others.

However, minimum wage alone cannot solve economic inequality. Minimum wage would not be such an important problem if it pertained only to high school and college students who can be claimed as dependents. In most cases, these people will be finding a stable, well-paid job within the next five years or so. Thus, education is also a factor in overcoming the class gap and has also been cited as a significant influence on income. Critics of a minimum-wage-only solution point out that a healthy economic environment must be present.

The high unemployment rate, especially here in Illinois, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, must also be looked at in solving for economic inequality. Peter Dreier, Todd Swanstrom and John H. Mollenkopf add the factor of geographics in their book, “Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century,” claiming that American city-building encourages the separation between the poor and rich.

Economic inequality, then, does not have a simple solution. The Democrats, though, would like us to believe otherwise, because they need the support. But the last Democrat who proposed a “War on Poverty” spoke roughly 50 years ago, and has poverty ended? Not that Republicans have the answer either; if Democrats are only looking for a distraction from healthcare, Republicans are only looking for a distraction from their own mistakes like the government shutdown. It must also be remembered that capitalism demands poverty to some extent. In all likelihood, then, Obama will not make significant change in the next two years, if any at all. Even the next presidential term probably won’t see much progress, especially if government spending isn’t more controlled. It looks like economic inequality may be here for a while.