When it comes to dividing up the pie, every year Americans are left fighting over fewer and fewer crumbs. This was not inevitable. It was political.

Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals. Credit.

Labor Day is an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of American workers to the economy and to the society that economy serves. Thanks to hard-fought battles won by the labor movement, once-controversial issues like child labor, worker safety, or the 40-hour work week are now enshrined into law.

Sadly, over the last four decades the bargain that was struck between workers and economy has been broken. The American economy has never been more productive. Yet more and more working Americans are falling into poverty as wages stagnate, meanwhile the cost of housing and other basic necessities goes up.

This…


What if poverty is the root cause of our national debt crisis? As it turns out, governing a society is much more expensive when it is gripped by inequality.

Takeaways:

  • Health care spending remains the biggest drag on government budget deficits and the national debt.
  • Poverty drives up health care costs by increasing our society’s susceptibility to preventable diseases like diabetes.
  • Unequal societies are more expensive to govern.
  • If you care about deficits and the debt, you might want to begin by declaring war on income inequality.

America is diving deeper into the red. Congressional Democrats and Republicans just negotiated a bipartisan budget deal with the White House that would send our government $320 billion dollars further into debt over the next two years. This, at a time when…


The first real shots of the US-China trade war have just been fired. How did it come to this, and where do we go from here?

  • The early 2000s were apocalyptic for the American factory worker.
  • Trump is right to put some of the blame on China. Robots and other forms of work automation had a smaller impact than initially thought.
  • The electoral politics of this trade war may push Trump past the point of no return.
  • There’s a better way to fight for the American worker.

On May 29 the People’s Daily, China’s largest newspaper and official mouthpiece for the central government, issued an ominous warning to the United States:

“Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

According to CNBC, it is the same phrase the…


Pitting America’s medical system against ten of the best can help us solve our spending puzzle. Here are 5 key pieces.

In Part 3 of The Bargain we saw that the United States spends twice as much per person on health care compared to most other wealthy countries. And it’s not all private money. Nearly 1-in-4 government dollars is spent trying to keep Americans alive and well. This makes our health care system the single largest contributor to the national debt.

Yet we also learned that our system performs terribly in global comparisons. We rank 36th in life expectancy, and 29th in access to quality medical services. …


Who has the best health care system in the world? And why isn’t it us?

Let’s say you wanted to shop for the best health care system in the world. How would you know it when you saw it?

The easiest way to compare health care across 190+ countries is to find out where people live the longest. Call it the ‘proof is in the pudding’ approach. For this we can turn to the UN Human Development Index.

Life Expectancy — The Top 30


Last spring, Cardi B asked some pointed questions about what Uncle Sam is doing with all her tax money. I rounded up the receipts.

If you ask folks what sets the United States apart from other wealthy countries when it comes to government spending, the first thing they usually say is d efense. It’s not a bad guess. For the last 70 years or so, the American military has been providing a security umbrella for its allies in Europe and East Asia. That burden carries with it a hefty price tag.

I also assumed that defense spending was the…


We can’t pick governments like we pick groceries. Even if we could, there are no labels to help us compare. Let’s make some.

How much do you think America spends per person on government in a given year?

We’re talking all-in. Everything from highways, defense, and social programs at the federal level, on down to public schools, first responders, and streetlights at the local level. How much does the bill for all that come to when you divide it up among more than 320 million people?

If you add up all the public spending across federal, state, and local governments in the United States, it works out to around $7 trillion dollars. …


The last time auto loan delinquency rates were this high was ten years ago, just as the US economy was spiraling downward into the Great Recession.

Seven million Americans are at risk of getting their cars repossessed. According to new data from Equifax and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the percentage of US auto loans more than 90 days delinquent climbed to 4.5 percent in the last quarter of 2018.

The last time Americans fell this far behind in making their car payments was in the second quarter of 2009, when the United States was plunging into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Is America’s addiction to automobiles setting us up for another financial collapse?


A drone photographer traveled the world to capture the lines that divide us.

Photographs by Johnny Miller

Cities often shield us from the embarrassing reminder that some people are significantly better off than others. Through market forces and deliberate policies like zoning, neighborhoods and communities can become so economically segregated that we are allowed to forget.

For Unequal Scenes, drone photographer Johnny Miller traveled the world to remind and embarrass us. His images force us to confront the bright lines separating haves from have-nots.

Many of Miller’s scenes were captured in the Global South, where informal settlements often press up against planned neighborhoods. The ocean of blue roofs in Mumbai’s poorer neighborhoods are almost charming, until you…


Actually, there was a stretch after World War II when Americans enjoyed a much larger share of the nation’s income.

President Trump is fond of harkening back to simpler, better times. His political opponents often dismiss this as mere nostalgia, or worse. After all, discrimination in the labor market remains pervasive for women and people of color. But in terms of wages, it turns out there was a 35-year period following WWII when the average American enjoyed a much larger slice of America’s economic pie.

Between 1945 and 1980, the wealthiest 10 percent of our society received only around a third of national income. Since 1980, income distribution has returned to levels of inequity not seen since the Gilded Age…

Don Leonard

Don Leonard, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Practice in City and Regional Planning at The Ohio State University and founder of TheLevelField.com

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