As a nation, we pride ourselves on the notion that everyone can enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, we’ve gradually learned these American Dream ideals are not as easily attainable as they sound, especially regarding financial security. This year more than ever, people recognize the growing wealth inequality in the United States. With one current candidate for president who — stump speech after stump speech — harps on this growing inequality, Americans have started to realize how rigged our economy can be.
Starting in February, Roosevelt’s Gage Gallery has hosted a photo exhibit titled, “One Percent: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality.” The exhibit, curated by Time Magazine Senior Photo Editor Myles Little, shows the extreme financial polarization in our nation and around the world. Through a collection of photos taken by more than 30 international photographers, exhibit attendees see a visual representation of how individual wealth affects a person’s life including health care, leisure and education.
After seeing this exhibit, I dug deeper and examined the impact this division has created. Currently the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. households have captured a whopping 76 percent of all the wealth in America. It’s important to point out the difference between income and wealth. Income is how much money a person makes. Wealth represents the things a person owns, or their assets (car, house, retirement savings, investments and businesses). According to Allianz’s Global Wealth Report 2015, the U.S. tops the list with approximately $63.5 trillion in private wealth. The U.S. also holds the number one spot for the largest wealth gap of any of the 55 countries examined in the study.
Corporations play a major role in this inequality when they raise profit margins. This causes corporations at the top to reap the benefits of greater stock prices and higher quarterly earnings while consumers of the corporation’s products are forced to contribute their own money, which widens the gap further.
With the top 20 percent of the U.S. population controlling nearly 90 percent of the nation’s net worth, it begs the question: what can we do about it? Hedge fund manager and billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II pointed out this level of inequality cannot continue. “It will get closed. History always does it. It typically happens in one of three ways: either through revolution, higher taxes, or war,” Tudor said in a 2015 TED Talk covered by Business Insider.
Whether it has an immediate optimistic outlook or not, financial inequality has come to define this generation in so many ways and deserves your attention. See the exhibit for yourself: “One Percent: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality” is on display in Roosevelt University’s Gage Gallery until May 28.