By Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
As we begin 2012, the issue of “income inequality” is a matter of high importance for millions of Black Americans and others who struggle to improve their overall quality of life. The fact is that the contradiction of economic injustice for decades has had a devastating impact on Black people across America. Inequality and systematic racial discrimination in education, economics, and the environment have been so pervasive and institutionalized that too many of us have come to falsely believe that this situation is permanent without recourse to challenge and change it. This is again why the growing Occupy Wall Street movement should be of particular interests to African Americans and Latino Americans who are the two groups that are most affected quantitatively by income inequality in America.
Black church leaders, in particular, are now moving to the forefront once again to raise the level of consciousness and social action of millions of Black people around this issue through the rise of Occupy the Dream that is revitalizing and reapplying the therapeutic and uplifting dream and legacy of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Our situation can and will change to the extent to which we organize and mobilize around our defined economic and political interests. More than ever before, Black Americans will have a larger role in shaping the future of America. But we must be focused on what the priority issues are while standing tall and bold in support of an inclusive movement for social change.
What is income inequality? It is the measurement of the distribution of income that highlights the gap between individuals or households making the most of the income in a given country and those making the least for a period of time. In the United States, overall income inequality has steadily increased during last 30 years between the super wealthy and the super poor. When you add race as a distinguishing characteristic, the widening gap of income inequality between Blacks and Whites in the U.S. exposes the lingering impact of years of targeted discrimination and economic injustice imposed on vast majority of Black Americans. Income inequality is the extent of disparity between high income and low income households.
The “Gini coefficient” measures income inequality by calculating the extent to which the distribution of income among individuals within a country deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. During the last ten years the United States had the highest Gini ranking of income inequality at coefficient number of “46” of all leading industrialized nations in the world. The Gini coefficient (named after an Italian statistician named Corrado Gini) is the most commonly used measure of income inequality.
A Gini coefficient of 0 represents perfect equality (that is, every person in the society has the same amount of income); a Gini coefficient of 100 represents perfect inequality (that is, one person has all the income and the rest of the society has none).
In the U.S., 1 percent of the people overwhelmingly and increasingly control the wealth of the nation at the economic hardship of 99 percent of the people. To put this inequality into a global context, the Credit Suisse Research Institute just released a report that documents that the richest .5 percent of global adults hold well over a third of the entire wealth of the world.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010-2011, the poverty rate in the U.S. reached its highest level since 1933 while the Forbes 400, an annual listing of America’s richest individuals inflation-adjusted net worth, cited that the wealth of the Forbes 400 rose from $507 billion in 1995 to over $2 trillion in 2011. Black Americans of all groups listed in national annual poverty analysis have the highest and increasing annual poverty rates in America going into 2012. I do not have to list the litany of all the problems that we face from double unemployment, foreclosures, loss of health care, incarceration, school drop outs, and other real painful problems as a result of the economic inequities and injustices that Black Americans face. The systemic problem of income inequality is a serious issue that we must address forthrightly. But we should not become cynical or hopeless. To the contrary, Black Americans have options. We first need to focus on this problem and we need to work on the solutions to income inequality. So much of our future is at stake. In the spirit of Dr. King and in the legacy of all our ancestors who overcame great hurdles in the past, let us pray, work, struggle, organize, mobilize, unify and build a future for our children and communities.
Join the movement. Let’s stand up to income inequality. Let’s occupy our dreams…. Let’s occupy our future.
Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is National Director of Occupy the Dream and President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip- Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).