Social and Wealth Inequality in the United States and Around the World

3 February 2019

Preface

In the United States, it would be not only foolish, but also ignorant to say that all people are treated equally, as is stated in our Constitution. The effects of economic downturn and many pieces of legislation (specifically all laws dealing with the war on drugs) disproportionately effect people of color and other minorities. Not only that, but our country’s legislators rarely seem to have any semblance of an idea as to what they are trying to legislate, namely when it comes to our Congress being almost entirely filled with old white men who ceaselessly attempt to restrict women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. And then there is the issue of wealth inequality; what kind of country allows a small handful of individuals collectively own more than half of the population? There is no ethical way to be a billionaire, especially when there are people living in poverty and barely getting by from paycheck-to-paycheck. Not even to mention corporate wealth hoarding, offshore tax evasion schemes, or multi-billion-dollar corporations paying employees as little as possible. Then comes the issue of America’s federal minimum wage, which has not increased in ten years, and has not been keeping up with inflation or corporate profits since the 1980s.

Growing Wealth Inequality in the United States and China

That is all only in the United States; some other countries have in much worse. Bangladesh, for example, has an extremely high rate of poverty, and a federal minimum wage equal to about $60 USD per month. (Worstall) That is why so many manufacturers have factories in Bangladesh — they can pay the workers next to nothing. It is a very similar situation in many other south east Asian countries, as well as for China. China, while claiming to be have a communistic economy, has a huge problem with wealth inequality — one of the fastest growing of any country. Shanghai, China has a GDP per capita of $53,370 — only $200 less than the United States — while the Gansu province has a GDP per capita of only $7,641 — just $200 more than Guatemala. (Lu and Tanzi) And that is only a glimpse at wealth inequality in China, where social inequality has reached a point frighteningly similar to that of Germany in the later 1930s. In China’s western province of Xinjiang, a secure facility was discovered in 2018 that reveals China has been moving Muslim citizens from their homes into local internment camps. (Sudworth)

LGBT+ Discrimination in Chechnya and the United States

In Chechnya, Russia, LGBT+ people have been facing persecution for years, which is bad enough on its own, but the severity of the state violence has been increasing recently. In the Chechnyan capital of Grozny, the police regularly kidnap gay people and torture them, as was the case with Maxim Lapunov in 2017. (Gessen)

The discrimination against LGBT+ people has been worsening here in the United States in recent years, as well; a common example being the baker in Colorado refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex couple in 2018. There is also Vice President Mike Pence’s history of supporting “conversion therapy” for gay people (Garcia), which is, horrifically, still legal in the United States. Not to mention the Supreme Court’s ruling that allows transgender individuals to be barred from the military simply on the basis of their gender.

The Demography of Institutionalized Racism

The Racial Dot Map is a demographics research tool put together by the University of Virginia; every person in the United States is represented by a dot, color coded by that person’s race. The map is based off 2010 census data. 308 million dots are displayed on the map, and it shows information about population density, geographic distribution, and racial diversity present in the entire country. However, it also points out a particularly disturbing trend: many places with a predominantly black population are actually correctional facilities. “[T]he map shows that the city of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin has a predominantly white population. However, the city’s sole Black neighborhood is the Chippewa Valley Correctional Institution. Surprisingly, there are 14 other cities [in Wisconsin] like this where the only Black neighborhood is a correctional facility.” (Kennedy) In the city of Madison, Wisconsin, the local jail population was 800 in 2016, 400 of those inmates were African American; of those 400, 350 were in jail for “crimes of poverty.” “It’s called a crime of poverty, because it means that almost 90% of Madison’s Black inmates are in jail for a small crime (like public urination), and they’re still in prison simply because, with Madison’s poverty disparity, the bail is one that they just can’t pay off.” The incarceration rate of black people in Wisconsin is higher than anywhere else in the country — one in eight African American men of working age were in state prisons or jails, as of 2014. (Gordon)

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world — 655 per 100,000 people. That is almost 2.2 million people in prisons, while around 4.4 million others remain under United States adult correctional supervision. (U.S. Department of Justice) As of 2015, 40 percent of America’s prison population was of African American descent, despite being only 13 percent of the total U.S. population. (Statistica)

Race and the Drug War

People of color are routinely targeted by law enforcement with much more force than their white counterparts. Seemingly every week, there is a new story about a fatal police shooting of a black person. Many cases involve nonviolent offenses, such as drug use, and are met with hefty prison sentences or violent engagement by law enforcement.

Nearly 80 percent of people in federal prison, and 60 percent of people in state prison for drug offences are black or Latino — the two groups most effected by the drug war, and more than 250,000 people have been deported for drug-related offences every year since 2007. In 2012 and 2013, more than 13,000 people were deported simply for possession of marijuana. As well, 8 percent of black people are denied the right to vote due to felony convictions. 11 percent of black children have an incarcerated parent, compared to only 1.7 percent of white children — all for drug-related offences. (Drug Policy Alliance)

Not that race and the justice system are the only factors at play; the pharmaceutical industry is also to blame. People are often prescribed powerful painkillers, opiates, for injuries where they are not necessary. If they get addicted, it can turn into a dependency on illegal substances. Perdue Pharma, the producer of OxyContin, is known for sparking this opioid epidemic (which almost entirely effects the economic middle class), lobbying for increased sales and prescription of OxyContin through the mid 1990’s and 2000’s. (Gunderman)

Being Poor is Expensive

A common saying goes, “Being poor is expensive. Can’t afford to go to the dentist now, pay for a root canal later.” That goes for not just the United States, but every other country as well. With a world dominated by corporatism and free market economies, as well as institutionalized and internal race/sex-ism or homophobia everywhere, it is evident that life is easiest for the straight white rich man, who finds it in his best interest to ensure the status quo.

References

Drug Policy Alliance. “Race and the Drug War.” Drug Policy (2018). http://www.drugpolicy.org/issues/race-and-drug-war.

Garcia, Arturo. Forbes. n.d. https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/mike-pence-supported-gay-conversion-therapy/. 23 1 2019.

Gessen, Masha. The New Yorker. 21 12 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/a-damning-new-report-on-lgbt-persecution-in-chechnya. 23 1 2019.

Gordon, Taylor. “Community Discusses Staggering Black Male Incarceration Rate in Wisconsin.” Atlanta Black Star (2014). https://atlantablackstar.com/2014/09/30/community-discusses-staggering-black-male-incarceration-rate-wisconsin/.

Gunderman, Richard. “Oxycontin: How Purdue Pharma Helped Spark The Opioid Epidemic.” The Conversation (2016). https://theconversation.com/oxycontin-how-purdue-pharma-helped-spark-the-opioid-epidemic-57331.

International Centre for Prison Studies. “World Prison Populations.” 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm.

Kennedy, Tanasia. “Racial Dot Map Shows Over Half of Wisconsin’s Black Neighborhoods Are Actually Prisons.” Atlanta Black Star (2016). https://atlantablackstar.com/2016/08/17/racial-dot-map-shows-half-wisconsins-black-neighborhoods-actually-prisons/.

Lu, Wei and Alexandre Tanzi. Bloomberg News. 20 5 2018. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-20/china-s-wealth-gap-teslas-for-the-rich-footpaths-for-the-poor. 23 1 2019.

Statistica. Statistica. 7 2018. https://www.statista.com/statistics/262962/countries-with-the-most-prisoners-per-100-000-inhabitants/. 2 2 2019.

Sudworth, John. BBC. 24 10 2018. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/China_hidden_camps. 23 1 2019.

U.S. Department of Justice. “Correctional Populations in the United States, 2016.” 2016. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus16.pdf.

Worstall, Tim. Forbes. 28 12 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2016/12/28/nonsense-about-the-minimum-and-living-wages-in-bangladesh/#6a13410419a2. 23 1 2019.