Income Inequality and The Great American Disconnect

There’s an interesting piece describing the results of a Northwestern University study on the political/economic perspectives of the top 1% of income earners in the United States:

“First and foremost, rich people care about the deficit. More than 85 percent of the survey participants said they considered the nation’s budget deficit to be a “very important” problem facing the country, the researchers found. In addition, nearly one-third of those surveyed said the budget deficit and too much government spending is the nation’s biggest issue.”  [HuffPo]

So, 85% of the ultra-rich in this country are focused on the national budget deficit — what of the other 99% of the American people?   The article reports that as of a CBS poll taken in 2011 only 7% of the nation as a whole are similarly concerned.   If we bring this a bit closer to today’s date we might be seeing the impact of continual  publicity given to the deficit issue as Congress lurches from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.  The Pew Center and Roper Center surveyed Americans in March 2013 with the following results:

Economic Poll

A CBS News poll in February 2013 showed about 11% of Americans focused on the deficit as the top national priority, the Quinnipiac Polling in January showed 20% giving the top priority to deficit reduction.  CNN showed 23% in January,  and Bloomberg polling reported 19% in December. [TPR]  The point may well be that in the last three months the number of people in the United States who view the budget deficit as the top national priority has never topped 23%.   There’s at least a ten percent gap — about 33% of the top 1% cite budget deficits.

We might be perilously close to a political situation in which the Congress of the United States of America is obsessing on a topic of major concern to only a few of its richest citizens.

What are most of the other people saying?  In the Pew/Roper polling 32% of respondents said JOBS and employment issues were their highest priority;  in the CBS polling 40% chose that topic; in the Quinnipiac polling 40% responded “the economy.”  The CNN poll showed 46% choosing “the economy,” and in the Bloomberg Poll 34% said “jobs and unemployment.” [TPR]  A person does have to statistically massage these numbers to reach the conclusion that the ultra-rich are focused on budget deficits while the remaining 99% are thinking about jobs and unemployment.

Needless to say, the top 1% saw “entitlement spending” as a problem and supported cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as a “solution.”

“On policy, it wasn’t just their ranking of budget deficits as the biggest concern that put wealthy respondents out of step with other Americans. They were also much less likely to favor raising taxes on high-income people, instead advocating that entitlement programs like Social Security and healthcare be cut to balance the budget. Large majorities of ordinary Americans oppose any substantial cuts to those programs.” [LAtimes]

While the effects of drum beating by conservatives that the Social Security Administration is “in trouble” is evident in some polling, there’s one interesting question raised in the August 2012 AP/Roper survey:

“If you had to choose, which would you prefer: raising Social Security taxes so that the benefits can be kept the same for everyone, OR, keeping Social Security taxes at the same rate they are at now, but reducing the benefits for future generations?”

The results:  Raise taxes, same benefits = 53%; Same tax, reduce benefits = 36%; unsure 9%, refused question 3%.   In other words, when push meets shove, most Americans are willing to accept higher Social Security taxation than risk reducing the benefits for ALL retirees.   This is hardly an indication that most Americans would be willing to cut Social Security in order to balance a federal budget.   There are other divides to bridge between the rich and the rest as well:

“While the wealthy favored more government spending on infrastructure, scientific research and aid to education, they leaned toward cutting nearly everything else. Even with education, they opposed things that most Americans favor, including spending to ensure that all children have access to good-quality public schools, expanding government programs to ensure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so, and investing more in worker retraining and education.”  [LAtimes]

In 2012  Pew Research polling, 53% of self identified upper class respondents and upper middle class ($100,000 annual earnings) had college degrees.   Thus, the rejection of educational opportunity programs for others smacks a bit of “I’ve got mine, now you’re on your own.”    This may be a function of the differentiation between the problems faced by the rich and those faced by the remainder of the population.  [Pew 8/2012]

 Upper Class Problems

Given the information in the Pew graph it’s hard NOT to see that most of  the upper echelon of our American economic elite have not had to face the same challenges as those in middle and lower income brackets.   What is disturbing about these graphics and analysis is the looming prospect that the interests of the economic elite take media and political precedence over the interests and needs of those who are not included in those upper brackets.   Trickle down politics (If it’s good for the rich it’s good for everyone) is no more genuine than trickle down economics (If it’s good for corporations it’s good for everybody.)

For more information see: “Rich Americans obsessed with budget…” Huffington Post;  “Inside the heads of the 1%…” Los Angeles Times; “Yes, the rich are different…” Pew Research Center; “Field of Degree and Earnings…” pdf Census Bureau.

1 Comment

Filed under Federal budget, income inequality, Politics, Social Security

One response to “Income Inequality and The Great American Disconnect

  1. Great data and great analysis. However, I’m wondering if you found any more data related raising Medicare taxation in order to preserve it for all Americans? Or do voters bundle Medicare with Social Security so the data is nearly identical?

    I’m looking forward to reading more posts