If you aren’t accustomed to hearing the term “income inequality” as part of your political lexicon, then perhaps you should begin to get used to the phrase because you’re going to hear a lot more about it.
In formally launching her bid for the Democratic nomination for president, Clinton said cast herself as the champion of “everyday Americans” and declared her alarm over circumstances “when the average CEO makes about 300 times what the average worker makes.”
Republican Marco Rubio is also addressing income inequality in his opening presidential campaign salvo. Rubio said that he was running, in part, “because equality of opportunity has always defined us as a people and as a nation. And the fact that there are millions of people now in America that are starting to have significant doubts about whether we’re still that kind of country should be deeply concerning to us.”
So with Democrats and Republicans talking about income inequality, what does that phrase mean?
Journalist John D. Sutter defined the term as follows: “Income inequality refers to how evenly or unevenly income is distributed in a society. The U.S. has a relatively high level of income inequality because the very richest people take home a large share of the economic pie – and there is a relatively large gap between them and some of the poorest people in America.”
But perhaps defining the concept between the absolute wealthiest and absolute poorest Americans does the concept a disservice, as if quoting the Biblical reference of “for ye have the poor always with you” from Matthew 26:11 out of context.
Consider these numbers from the Census: The average per capita money income in America in 2013 was $28,155. In Mississippi for that same period, the average per capita money income was $20,618.
But even that measure of Mississippi’s poverty compared to the rest of the country doesn’t tell the whole story. In Madison County, Mississippi, the average per capita money income in 2013 was $33,170. In DeSoto County, Mississippi, the average was $26,897.
Then consider Jefferson County, Mississippi’s average income for the same period of just $12,723 or Noxubee County’s average of $12,780.
So income inequality – and the impact that income inequality has on the political process – harkens back to the late Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill’s observation that all politics is local. The split between Democrats and Republicans on these issues are as obvious as the political differences between the majority of voters in Madison and Rankin counties and those of the majority of voters in Jefferson and Noxubee counties in Mississippi.
Income inequality as a political issue has the potential to change the American political landscape in the ways that civil rights issues have already accomplished.
But for Democrats, there is an argument between centrists and the more liberal wing of the party over how large a role government has or should have in attempting to reduce the income inequality divide. Strangely enough, that same debate exists between young “establishment” Republicans and more conservative “Tea Party” forces in the GOP.
Can government really “fix” income inequality? Should government do that? Or is that a function of the markets in a capitalistic system in which there are winners and losers?
Voters can expect to hear a lot of debate on those questions and others like them between now and the time they go into the voting booth to choose President Barack Obama’s successor.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.