Editorial: The widening gap

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The Charleston Gazette

This state’s gulf between the privileged elite and average families is becoming more painful, according to the annual “State of Working West Virginia” report from the Center on Budget and Policy.

Between 1979 and 2011, it said, the top 1 percent of West Virginians gained 71 percent more income, while the other 99 percent lost 3 percent. The rich got much richer, but everyone else slipped downward a bit.

“Inequality continues to grow,” researcher Sean O’Leary told business reporter Caitlin Cook.

Between 2012 and 2013, the Mountain State lost more than 8,000 good-paying jobs in mining and manufacturing, while gaining low-wage work, the report said.

West Virginia should intensify college and other advanced training to qualify young people for better-paying careers in the new knowledge-based Information Age, center chief Ted Boettner said.

This gloomy picture of worsening inequality doesn’t affect just West Virginia — it’s a plague on all of America. President Obama said the widening gulf between haves and have-nots is “the defining challenge of our time.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented the growing “share of income and wealth going to those at the very top — not just the top 1 percent but the top one-tenth of a percent or the one-hundredth of a percent.” She added that it “affects our democracy.”

Republicans generally serve the wealthy, while Democrats have been powerless to save average folks from slippage. Lately, even conservative voices have warned that inequality drags down the entire economy, hurting business. First Standard & Poor’s, then Morgan Stanley, issued reports saying that recovery from the Great Recession is being hindered by the economic gulf in U.S. society.

The Federal Reserve says the top 3 percent got nearly one-third of all American income in 2013 — and that small group is the only segment to enjoy rising earnings since the early 1990s.

The Financial Times says college graduation rates for America’s affluent families has risen 20 percent since the 1960s — while lower-income families saw only a 4 percent increase. “As a result, children of prosperous families are likely to stay well-off and children of poor families are likely to remain poor,” the international business journal said.

Boettner is right: Better education offers the best hope for the 99 percent to avoid being left behind while the 1 percent gobble most rewards. So West Virginia must work harder to provide training beyond high school for everyone who can learn.