Permit me to deep dive into the rise of inequality and how wealth is unequally distributed in most industrialized countries, just about everywhere in the world. Is it really true that success often depends on one’s background? And, if so, why is that? And while there are wars and rumors of wars all around us, inequality is still the most pressing social problem facing us today.
There is a lot of data about poverty and the poor but very little on the rich and how they make their money or where they store it or what they do to get it. Of course, there are those who work extremely smart to get where they are and they should be recognized for it, but at the same time, there are many more that are nefarious in getting rich and building wealth.
The collective repercussions of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have intensified a global cost-of-living crisis that threatens extreme hardship for many of us in the Caribbean and around the world. This is evident especially for the thousands of migrants flowing across international borders around the world. Disadvantaged populations with high food and fuel costs face accelerated vulnerability and reduced welfare across the board. These disparities are steadily increasing, as well as the inflation rate and the cost of essential foods such as butter, milk and cheese continue to increase. At the same time, wages are not rising proportionately, broadening the gap for the disadvantaged groups. This disparity is noteworthy because it has caused a shift in working and labour organization patterns worldwide where specific skilled and innovation driven jobs receive more significant pay increases. Other industries, such as manufacturing, face less flexibility, insecure pay, and heightened difficulty and safety issues. This indicates that many will struggle to escape low-skilled, underpaid work unless employers invest in skills training. As data shows that aggregate bills are already higher than income for the poorest of society. There is, indeed, cause for concern.
The growing gap between the rich and the rest isn’t a matter of who can afford a yacht or a Glencore penthouse. Rather, it’s the crippling nature of these disparities as they touch nearly every aspect of daily lives from career prospects and educational opportunities to health risk and neighborhood safety. The widening income gap has also fueled a class-based social disconnect that has produced inequitable educational results. According to Robert Putman, “smart poor kids are less likely to graduate from college now than dumb rich kids. That’s not because of the schools, that’s because of all the advantage that are available to rich kids”.
Economic inequality often fuels the political kind, driving everything from the actions of our political representatives to the quality and quantity of civic engagement, such as voting and community service. It’s hardly surprising that the political supporters with the greatest access to candidate are usually the very wealthy. Backers with both influence and access often help to shape the political agenda. The result is a kind of velvet rope that can keep those without economic influence on the sidelines and out of the conversation. Even the laws are written to confuse the average citizen forcing to pay for legal advice in an already cash-strapped economy. There’s a real danger that as wealth and income are more and more concentrated towards the top, it does become a vicious circle. Money has corrupted our political process and politicians are focused too much on the tiny slice of the one per cent who are supporting them financially.
What governments should be doing now is to slow the rate of inequality maybe by increasing the minimum wage for families to get by, reducing the burden of debt on college students and improving primary education so more students are better prepared for college and for personal advancement.
Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian educator.