Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Income Inequality, Public Perception and Actual Data

With the rise of the Occupy movement (relatively quiescent now, after many evictions from public spaces), income and/or wealth inequality has become the issue de jour in some circles, even resulting in mention in recent speech by the President.

Putting to one side the fact that there have been relatively few specific proposals by any pubic officials to address income differentials in America, a question remains:  How much are Americans actually concerned about this issue?

The answer, it appears, according to a recent Gallup Poll (www.gallup.com/poll/151568/Americans-Prioritize-Growing-Economy-Reducing-Wealth-Gap.aspx), is: 

Not as much as some might expect.

When asked to rate the relative importance of government policies in various areas, here were the results regarding percentages rating such policies as extremely important:

Grow and expand the economy - 32%

Increase the opportunity for people to get ahead if they want to - 29%

Reduce the income and wealth gap between rich and poor - 17%.

Apparently, Americans remain strongly supportive of economic growth and equality of opportunity, but not of government steps to reduce the outcome of income or wealth disparities.

As the Gallup survey notes in its summary - "It is clear that while some Americans, disproportionately Democrats, consider it important that the federal government enact policies to reduce the income and wealth gap, many more Americans consider it important that the government grow the economy and increase the equality of opportunity."

A separate Gallup question found that "the fact that some people in the United States are rich and others are poor" is deemed "an acceptable part of the economic system" by 52% of those asked, a reversal from the last time the question was asked (in 1998) when 52% said that it was "a problem that needed to be fixed."

 So, while steps to reduce income/wealth differentials may or may not be good policy (some differentials being an inherent part of any free market system - George Clooney will always make more than Joe the Plumber), it seems clear that support for proposals to reduce such disparities are, relatively speaking, simply not a high priority for most Americans.

In that regard, it may be that the Occupy activist's priorities are shared by only a small proportion of most Americans.

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