As if there were lingering doubts that Occupy Wall Street’s populism had firm grounding, last week’s report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office settles the score. Here’s one tidbit: For the top 1 percent of income earners, their after-tax, inflation-adjusted incomes increased 275-fold from 1979-2007; by comparison, incomes rose just 18 percent for the poorest fifth of the population.
So now what? What can we do to address this rising inequality? While Occupy Wall Street is deservedly drawing lots of attention, it’s not clear what specific changes it advocates, if any. And it’s even less certain whether or how its efforts will impact the 2012 presidential election, providing no mandate for candidates to advocate on behalf of the interests of the “99 percent.”
Even under the best of circumstances an election year isn’t a ripe time for major policy change. And these are hardly the best of circumstances. Budgetary constraints and political gridlock ensure that for the foreseeable future we won’t see much discussion about how to redress economic inequality. Moreover, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, also released last week, reveals declining public faith in the government’s capacity to solve problems; indeed, distrust has reached unprecedented proportions. So not only is the timing for federal reform terrible, but that’s not something many of us seem to want.
The answer, instead, lies within. What we need to be doing – and what public support for Occupy Wall Street suggests – is tackling this problem the old-fashioned way: through private initiative. Fortunately, there is a rich infrastructure of nonprofit organizations that are successfully doing just that. They just need our investment. Some of the work that is making a significant impact includes:
- Permanent housing for the chronically homeless
- Job and life skills for kids in the foster-care system
- Restaurant apprenticeships for low-income youth
Check back here for more discussion of the exciting work nonprofits are doing all around the country to redress economic inequality.