Exploring the Kyriarchy: The Societal Effects of Economic Injustice
In April, we explored the injustice of wage gaps for marginalized people, specifically women, people of color, and the disabled. We examined the causes of wage gaps for marginalized groups. But in this essay we are looking at some of the effects of wealth inequality. Why exactly is it so important to address this issue?
Reporting in July 2018 revealed that income inequality has increased faster in the last decade. The lack of minimum wage increases and the decline of unions as states move toward so called “right-to-work” laws are largely to blame. Right-to-work laws seek to limit the ability of unions to bargain on behalf of their members, saving companies millions. This has stagnated wages for workers in right-to-work states.
Peter Temin, author of The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Duel Economy, argues that there are two classes of workers in the US: the predominately white financial, technology, and electronics sector and those in low wage employment. He argues that education, including college, is key to escaping poverty, but that to do so requires a detailed plan with no problems. He argues that the wealthier class has secured restrictions to escaping poverty, so the system is rigged against the poor.
It’s also expensive to be poor, as food, healthcare, and financial services take up a higher percentage of an individual’s income than a wealthy person’s. Poor people may have to work multiple jobs, and time consuming public transportation and the cost of tuition may diminish opportunities for further education to acquire the skills necessary for higher income employment. Income inequality may also impede overall economic growth by limiting access and opportunity for further education, which reduces the high earning skills available for the working class.
Violence and Crime
The patriarchy hurts men, not just women. For example, the patriarchal ideals of manhood - power, wealth, strength, and aggression - can often be difficult to attain ideals, similar to patriarchal beauty standards for women. When the system is rigged against economic upward mobility, men are left with physical strength and aggression to maintain power. This can lead to violence in an attempt to maintain one’s reputation and power.
Lower income individuals also commit more street crime than higher income people, while higher earners commit more white-collar crimes. A higher police presence in poor neighborhoods may result in a higher arrest rate for these crimes. Once in jail or prison, research shows that maintaining communication with family members can help prisoners after they are released. But this can be very expensive. The private companies that contract with prisons make money off of inmates and their families by charging exorbitant rates for basic needs, like communicating with family members. The expenses for prisoners to communicate with loved ones could become even worse with the possible merger of two of the providers of prison telecommunications. So, while strong support networks outside help lower recidivism rates, systems that exploit a captive population make that more difficult.
Another major factor in reducing recidivism, employment, is a problem for many formerly incarcerated individuals, as employers are reluctant to hire people with a criminal record. The formerly incarcerated also face significant barriers to housing once they return to their communities. Unemployment is a barrier to housing; if a person can’t find a job, they can’t rent an apartment. Even with a job, some landlords refuse to rent to people with a criminal record. Also, many public housing options bar people who have been convicted of crimes. Even moving in with a family member in public housing could result in eviction of the entire household.
A strong social network, employment, and housing are key to staying out of prison, but the system is often rigged against people with criminal records. But recidivism also leads to societal costs that affect all of us, including victims of crime (loss of property, medical bills), the loss of productivity of the re-incarcerated individual, and the cost of incarceration itself.
Income inequality also has a serious impact on one’s health. Combining data from the Economic Innovation Group that measures US counties on economic inequality with data from the Center for Disease Control reveals that health disparities are more severe in distressed counties nationwide. Life expectancy in distressed counties is lower than in more prosperous counties. Lower income counties also experience higher rates of “diseases of despair,” such as substance abuse and suicide. The opioid crisis has affected disadvantaged counties at higher rates, as overdose death rates average 37% higher in those counties. Reduced access to quality healthcare exacerbates these issues.
Access to healthcare services, including hospitals, health technology, and insurance, is largely dependent on where one lives. Limited access to healthcare in poorer areas of the US impacts longterm health outcomes. That many states declined to expand medicare under the Affordable Care Act left many poor citizens without access to the care they need. As mentioned in our essay on the marginalization of black neighborhoods, environmental racism - like in Flint, MI - and food deserts increase negative longterm health outcomes.
Public health affects society as whole in terms of reduced productivity, for the sick person or for care givers. This can cost our economy hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
Income inequality also has an impact on the education of children. Wealth inequality has a larger effect on the educational achievement gap than race or ethnicity. The gap begins before kindergarten, as wealthy families have more resources and time to spend toward very young children’s education. While racial achievement gaps have been shrinking, high/low income achievement gaps have been widening. The percentage of students attending predominately low income schools has increased in recent years. Students attending these schools have lower reading and math scores. Low income students also have less access to extra curricular activities and field trips, which help students become more well rounded and make them more attractive to college admissions offices.
Research published in 2017 found that students from low resource schools face a disadvantage in college admissions, as those schools don’t have the resources to send detailed profiles of the school itself. That means that admissions offices don’t have the context needed to move lower income students forward in the admissions process. For example a low income student may have completed fewer advanced placement courses than a higher income student, but when admissions officers can compare that to the courses available at their schools, they are more likely to be recommend for acceptance. As discussed earlier, higher education can make the difference a student needs for economic mobility.
Quality public education means that we, as a society, have educated voters, a skilled workforce, and fewer high school dropouts. People who graduate high school are able to go to college, attaining the skills needed to work in higher wage jobs, or pursue other employment opportunities. Higher wage earners pay more taxes, and a greater tax base results in better services to help citizens care for ourselves and our communities.
Crime, recidivism, public health, and public education affect everyone in society, even if indirectly. Addressing wealth inequality involves changing laws and expanding access to quality public education and healthcare services. Yes, these programs cost money, but in the long term they pay for themselves in terms of benefits to society.