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On Thursday, November 3, Chuck Collins, author of 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It, spoke at Emmanuel College’s Cushing Library Lecture Hall on the record inequality currently experienced in the United States.
Collins began the discussion by references an anecdote from oil baron J. Paul Getty. When asked for his tips for financial success Getty responded, “wake up early most days, work hard all day long, and find oil.”
Inequality in the United States is steeped in history; it is not so much dependent upon our individual accomplishments, but on the years of wealth accumulation of our ancestors. Collins spoke about systemic factors, such as slavery and segregation, that have prevented African Americans and other people of color from accessing the same levels of resources and capital over time. This has created high levels of racial inequality that outweigh the general inequality among the white population.
The median wealth of white Americans is currently 13 times greater than the median wealth of black Americans, and 10 times greater than that of latino Americans. By 2043, when the USA is a primarily people of color nation, according to Collins, this inequality could as much as double.
Even though the greatest burden of inequality has been placed on people of color, Collins said that inequality affects all of us. Until the last year real wages in the United States had been stagnant or declining for the last thirty years; this year real wages only increased about one percent.
In the past ten years almost all wage growth has occurred in the top 0.1 percent. In fact, the 20 richest individuals in America currently own the same wealth as the entire bottom half of the United States population.
After statistically addressing the inequality crisis, Collins emphasized why an average individual should care about the widening gap between rich and poor.
“Inequality is undermining all that we care about,” stated Collins. This is evidenced in health care, education, and more publicly in the presidential election.
According to Collins, the presidential election is now being controlled by the “Wealth Primary,” which decides which candidates will be capable of even carrying out a nationwide campaign at a financial level.
Without significant financial backing in the range of millions of dollars, it has become impossible for a candidate to gain the support necessary to even compete within a party’s primary.
Furthermore, the “Wealth Primary” allows undeserving candidates to hang on in the race for longer than they would otherwise — as long as they have a single individual capable of financing their campaign they have the chance at gaining public support.
Collins ultimately argued that inequality in the United States is leading to an unstable economy, poorer health, and ultimately disenfranchisement of the American public.
Devon Wright ’17 is a staff writer for The Hub. She can be contacted at email@example.com