Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: Divided by David Cay Johnston for Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day, and I am joining with other bloggers from more than 100 different countries around the world to talk about inequality. Inequality is a theme that is at the heart of many of the previous Blog Action Day themes. In the past we have talked about water, food, human rights, and other topics that should be equal to all, but certainly are not.

Since this is a book blog, I decided to review a book about inequality. There were many to choose from. In the end, I went with a book that is a collection of excerpts from other books, speeches and articles: Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality edited by David Cay Johnston. He brings together writings of leading scholars, activists and journalists to provide a deeper look into inequality in the United States.

Divided is split into seven sections: Overview, Income Inequality, Education, Health Care Inequality, Debt and Poverty, Policy and Family. The first two sections take up almost half of the book, which makes sense since income inequality is related to inequality in all of the other areas discussed later in the book. The writers talk about the history of inequality in the United States, and the fact that the divide between the rich and the middle class and poor has grown substantially in the past few decades. Many statistics stand out, including one highlighted in the book's jacket: "Shockingly, from 2009 to 2011, the top 1 percent got 121 percent of the income gains while the bottom 99 percent saw their income fall."

Inequality affects many aspects of our lives. President Barack Obama notes that inequality gives a stronger voice to those who can afford to pay lobbyists and fund political campaigns. Sean F. Reardon discusses the fact that high-income families are able to spend more resources on educational experiences for their children, such as high-priced preschool programs, specialized camps and many other opportunities that widen the academic achievement gap between rich and poor. Stephen Bezruchka talks about the fact that inequality is at the heart of the relatively poor health in the United States; "over thirty nations have better health by many measures than the United States." (p190-191)

One of the big changes is that it is not the gap between the poor and the middle class that is widening today; it is the gap between the richest of the rich, the 1 percent, and the rest of the country. It's the middle class that is suffering now. As Elizabeth Warren states:
America was once a world of three economic groups that shaded each into the other--a bottom, a middle, and a top--and economic security was the birthright of the latter two. Today the lines dividing Americans are changing. No longer is the division on economic security between the poor and everyone else. The division is between those who are prospering and those who are struggling, and much of the middle class is now on the struggling side. (p28-29)
Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Economy is a great collection of thoughts on the issue of inequality in America. It definitely leans toward the left in terms of political views, but it is a real eye-opener in terms of understanding inequality, education, economic policy and other aspects of our country that are affecting each and every one of us today.

Be sure to check out other blogs about Inequality by visiting the Blog Action Day website or check out #BAD2014 or #inequality on Twitter.


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