Guest column: Income gaps can be catalysts

Guest Columnist

The Philadelphia Inquirer

It’s a stretch to think Americans, like French peasants or Russian serfs in centuries past, will rise up and revolt to protest economic inequality in this country. However, the continued growth in income disparity should concern Republicans who already think Democrats encourage class warfare to win elections.

The idea that the rich get richer while the less affluent struggle just to maintain their lifestyles is nothing new, but the ability of the more affluent to survive the last recession and seemingly profit from it has poorer Americans who are still trying to recover from the downturn wondering if they are getting a fair shake.

The country’s wealthiest 1 percent, the most talked about demographic during the Obama-Romney presidential election, has recovered much more quickly from the recession with an income increase more than 31 percent between 2009 and 2012, compared with less than half a percent of growth for the other 99 percent of Americans during that period.

Research by University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez shows the recession didn’t slow the growth in income disparity. In fact, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans, those earning more than $114,000 a year, took home more than half the nation’s income last year. That’s the largest share of overall income acquired by a single category since that statistic was first recorded in 1917.

Just as upsetting to many Americans as the income gap is, is how some companies seem to be avoiding job creation even as they look for ways to exploit the economic system to boost profits. An example of that mindset is how Verizon is not planning to use any significant portion of Wednesday’s record-breaking $49 billion bond issue to create new products and jobs. The telecommunications firm will instead use the borrowed cash to buy out Vodafone, which owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless.

The $49 billion bond issue eclipses the previous record of $17 billion raised by Apple in April. Buying out Vodafone isn’t expected to produce new jobs, but it should boost shareholders’ portfolios. Once again, the rich will have the opportunity to get richer while the jobless continue to look for work.

It’s not engaging in class warfare to ask companies thriving after the recession to remember that adding jobs to the economy helps to ensure their success, too. It’s not fomenting revolution to want to spread the wealth. It’s how to put more money in the hands of consumers to make purchases of goods and services, which is the oil that keeps this country’s economic engine running.