Every four years, the nation seems to find itself wrapped in a debate about economic fairness and the struggles of the middle class. A presidential campaign has a wonderful way of focusing Washington’s mind on the country’s largest economic voting bloc, and 2012 is no exception.
But the concerns seem more real and more threatening this time. There is increasing evidence that the nation is splitting into a land of haves and have-nots. I’ve seen the disparities first-hand in small communities and big cities around the country. And recent figures from the Federal Reserve show that the median family has assets (including their house but subtracting their mortgage) of roughly $77,300. The top 10 percent of families have nearly $1.2 million. That’s the kind of gap not seen since the 1920s, just before the Great Depression.
For people on the left of the political spectrum, those figures aren’t just disheartening, they demand action, or at least talk — lots and lots of talk. Flip through the TV or radio dial, and you will find no shortage of progressive politicians, journalists and thinkers offering analyses and critiques of the growing wealth gap. The White House, too, has joined in, bringing the populist argument to President Obama’s stump speeches and attack ads. Make no mistake, the income divide is the subtext to the debates over presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s tax returns and time at Bain Capital — and there’s a not whole lot of “sub” to the text.