The Life Lotto | English Columnist Janet Kim
Matthew is currently a third year pursuing pre-med studies at his university. Matthew is not like the other students at school. He hears the daily routines of his classmates and how they have the leisure to wake up 30 minutes before class to brush their teeth, comb their hair, and run out the door with their backpack half-on and still make it on time.
Matthew has to wake up 4 hours before class. His classes start on average, around 10AM. This means Matthew is up around 6AM everyday, but these 4 hours do not give him the freedom to move at a leisurely pace. Matthew lives a combination of a 1 hour subway ride, 30 minute bus ride, and 10 minute walk away from his school. Not to mention the half hour he needs to take out of his morning to walk his little sister to middle school.
Today is a little bit different. Today, Matthew feels optimistic. He is looking forward to getting back the results of the lab practical he took last week, and he knows he is going to be pleased with the results. But before Matthew makes it out the door, he sees a slip of paper wedged between the door, held up by his padlock.
The paper is desperately flailing at him, asking to be read. But Matthew already knows what it is. It’s an eviction notice. Matthew has been continuously late on making rent payments this year and he swallows the large lump in his throat as he tells himself it is time to move. Again.
Matthew has tried to make his rent payments on time with the part-time bussing job he takes on the weekend in combination with the very little pocket money he receives from his struggling parents every month. Not to mention the hefty tuition loans that are silently growing in size as the days pass by, but he knows this is a problem he cannot deal with right now. He hopes that education will save his family and that he will be the first to graduate college, which will open doors to far greater opportunities that will help him pay back all of the massive debt.
Matthew picks up on conversations here and there about how some students have paid their tuition up-front, something entirely unimaginable for his circumstances. He realizes that to a few, tuition is but just a tiny fraction of the entire wealth their family has accrued over several generations. To his family, it is far more than what they have.
Matthew knows that simply being enrolled in university will not defend him against the face of discrimination and qualification boundaries that will attempt to weed him out every step of the way. He needs to stand out amongst his classmates.
But how can he do this when he doesn't even have the resources to support his own basic needs? Matthew could have easily been born into a more affluent family, but with the luck of a draw, he was born into this one. He is supposed to be the one that breaks the vicious cycle of poverty and magically dispels his family of all financial burdens, but he is fighting tooth and nail against a large hegemonic problem with nothing but his bare hands.
Matthew’s situation is a perfect demonstration of the never-ending cycle of inequality.
Inequality is currently plaguing the United States. Inequality is the vicious cycle in which there is an excess of income allocated to the top tier of earners, leaving the bottom with very little income to prosper with. “According to the Federal Reserve, the upper 3 percent of the income distribution received 30.5per cent of total incomes in 2013” along with the next 7 percent earning a little shy of 20%, leaving the bottom 90% of the U.S. working population with just over half of total income. This inequality is only getting worse, as the mean family income continued to increase whereas the median family income dropped since 2010. In addition, a study conducted by the liberal Economic Policy Institute indicates that executive pay (particularly CEOs) has risen nearly eight hundred and seventy six percent between the years of 1978 and 2011 and has in turn widened the inequality gap even further.
It is also important to note that this widening inequality is disproportionately affecting communities of color. There is evidence that “the wealth of white households is now more than 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households.” These trends broken down by race and ethnicity show that there are various factors that play a vital role in the compensation of workers that have nothing to do with the amount of effort and time they contribute to society through their jobs.
One major contributing factor to this widening inequality gap is the continuing rise of executive pay since 1978, particularly that of large corporation CEO’s. The rise in executive pay has CEOs paying paid nearly 300 times three hundred times the average worker, an astounding number that has been rising since 50 years ago. In an attempt to alleviate this wage disparity, policies of transparent pricing have been heavily instituted but have produced ironic results. Transparent pricing has actually in turn caused peer benchmarking, a phenomenon in which boards of companies monitor the pay of peer group CEOs and “peg their C.E.O.’s pay to the fiftieth, seventy-fifth, or ninetieth percentile of the peer group—never lower.”
Another catalyst to the widening income gap is the shift to maximizing shareholder value. According to recent studies, “the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans own roughly one-third of the value of all shares, that the wealthiest 5 percent hold more than two-thirds of the value of all shares, with the other third spread over the remaining 95 percent.” The shift from encouraging productivity and sharing in the 1950s and 60s to the goal of today’s companies in maximizing profit and shareholder value have resulted in most of this profit going to the top tier of income earners.
According to a concept called meritocracy, the the bottom tier being paid as little as they are in relation to executives must be a direct reflection of their work ethic. However, the rest of the work force (such as Matthew’s family), pays higher taxes to compensate for all of the money going into executives’ pockets instead of “research and development, additional jobs, or higher wages for average worker”. Therefore, the bottom tier is almost being stripped of part of their income to make up for the loss to the economy soaring CEO wages cause.
How is this fair? Money is being squeezed out of the pockets of individuals who have little-to-nothing to begin with in order to give those who have almost the entire nation’s sum of income even more.
And with massive debts being piled onto these individuals with continually rising tuition costs and housing costs that have skyrocketed since the 1990s, this financial pressure is now not only being felt by the income-earners of the family but by the young children who are fighting this battle alongside their parents.
If we don’t begin to more actively address the issue of inequality, students like Matthew will never have the opportunity to achieve more than what they were born with. The economy, as well as society, will eventually reach a stagnation point where inequality becomes the social norm and people will give up on escaping the roles life has given to them.
So, let’s do something right and fight the good fight.