“Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class and circumstances of birth.”
This is the definition of the American dream according to writer James Truslow in 1931. Today, America has the fourth most uneven income distribution in the world with the top 3% of the population holding 54.4% of all wealth, whilst the bottom 90% scrape by with a meagre 24.7%.
The ultimate example of the economic polarization of American society could be the contrasting neighbourhoods of New York City. New York’s Upper East Side is known worldwide as the plush hotspot for many romantic comedies and the location many celebrities choose to spend their lives and their fortunes. On the other hand, New York’s South Bronx is one of the poorest areas in the USA with one of the highest crime rates. The statistics are shocking, considering that these contrasting neighbourhoods are barely a mile apart, 10 minutes on the number 6 subway line, separated only by the muddy waters of Harlem River, but simultaneously worlds apart.
To walk the streets of the 14th and 16th districts of New York is to experience the inequality first hand. The people living in these districts differ so greatly; they are separated by education, job prospects, health, race, class and most of all opportunity. It seems unfair that the very people that monopolize the rich side of town are the ones whose reckless behaviour resulted in the collapse of the economy and the financial slump for so many of the poor in New York. The South Bronx is mostly occupied by immigrants, predominantly Hispanics from Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico who travelled to the States with hopes of living the American dream.
The distance between these two regions is a testimony to the dramatic contrast between the rich and the poor in the States today. It has become near impossible to recover from poverty in the US. Despite the fact that food prices continue to climb, the minimum wage stays at its lowest, (roughly the equivalent of £4.00). Without food stamps the poor would starve and the use of food stamps in the US has risen by 75% in the past four years; now covering 15% of the population.
Taking steps towards healing the divide lies in reducing the wealth of the top 0.01% of the population through taxing and increasing the minimum wage of those living on the poverty line, as well as public spending on the poorer regions of the country. The increase of income in the bottom and middle tiers of society would lead to higher education of the workforce, which in turn would improve an individual’s ability to improve economic status. This would reawaken the concept that America is a ‘land of opportunity’.
However the future remains uncertain and there are fears for the future amongst the poor of the country. In the Bronx, in St Ann’s Church, Rev. Martha Overall worries of the impact a Republican government with its extensive government cuts could have on the poverty stricken families of America, of those scraping by. The aggressive Democrat vs Republican debate has become the very definition of America – polarized by money.
“It’s social Darwinism. It’s people being pitted against people. I also believe it is un-American. I don’t believe this country was founded on a sense of every man for himself. It was founded on community.”