Thursday, April 28, 2016

How the Other Fifth Lives

I suggest reading the whole article at the following link.®ion=opinion-c-col-right-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-right-region&_r=2&mtrref=undefined&assetType=opinion

Thomas B. Edsall APRIL 27, 2016

For years now, people have been talking about the insulated world of the top 1 percent of Americans, but the top 20 percent of the income distribution is also steadily separating itself — by geography and by education as well as by income.

This self-segregation of a privileged fifth of the population is changing the American social order and the American political system, creating a self-perpetuating class at the top, which is ever more difficult to break into.


In hard numbers, the percentage of families with children living in very affluent neighborhoods more than doubled between 1970 and 2012, from 6.6 percent to 15.7 percent.

At the same time, the percentage of families with children living in traditional middle class neighborhoods with median incomes between 80 and 125 percent of the surrounding metropolitan area fell from 64.7 percent in 1970 to 40.5 percent.

Reardon and Bischoff write:

Segregation of affluence not only concentrates income and wealth in a small number of communities, but also concentrates social capital and political power. As a result, any self-interested investment the rich make in their own communities has little chance of “spilling over” to benefit middle‐ and low-income families. In addition, it is increasingly unlikely that high‐income families interact with middle‐ and low‐income families, eroding some of the social empathy that might lead to support for broader public investment in social programs to help the poor and middle class.


In an essay published earlier this year, “Gates, Gaps, and Intergenerational Mobility: The Importance of an Even Start,” Smeeding finds that the gap between the average income of households with children in the top quintile and households with children in the middle quintile has grown, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $68,600 to $169,300 — that’s 147 percent.
The bottom line, Smeeding wrote in an email, is this:

The well-to-do are isolated from the day to day struggles of the middle class and below to provide these key services (health, education, job search and other opportunities) to aid the upward mobility of their children. But the upper middle class are happy to take advantage of tax subsidies for their own housing, preschool for their kids, and saving for college which benefit them.

Political leverage is another factor separating the top 20 percent from the rest of America. The top quintile is equipped to exercise much more influence over politics and policy than its share of the electorate would suggest. Although by definition this group represents 20 percent of all Americans, it represents about 30 percent of the electorate, in part because of high turnout levels.


Equally or perhaps more important, the affluent dominate the small percentage of the electorate that makes campaign contributions.


As the top 20 percent becomes more isolated and entrenched, reforms designed to open opportunities for those in the middle and on the bottom “can all run into the solid wall of rational, self-interested upper middle class resistance,” Reeves argues.

At the same time that lifestyle and consumption habits of the affluent diverge from those of the middle and working class, wealthy voters are becoming increasingly Democratic, often motivated by their culturally liberal views.


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