Probing the Causes of Economic Inequality

December 7, 2015 —

 “If we are going to talk about economic inequality in our country, we have to talk about it all the way to the bottom … not just go down as far as the middle class,” said Professor Peter Edelman, speaking at a Georgetown Law symposium on “Economic Inequality: Causes, Consequences and Responses” on December 4. 

The conference, which was introduced by Professor Mitt Regan and Dean William M. Treanor, explored the causes and consequences of inequality and how to respond to them. The top 20 percent of U.S. households owns more than 84 percent of the country’s wealth, according to Scientific American.

Edelman outlined eight changes over the past 40 years, most of which “we didn’t see coming”  — including a shift to low-wage jobs, mass incarcerations, a decrease in the quality of education, a lack of affordable housing and more. “One hundred and six million people in our country — a third of our population — have incomes below twice the poverty line,” Edelman said. 

Professor Emma Coleman Jordan, Dean David Thomas of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business and Brendan “Dan” O’Flaherty of Columbia University’s economics department conducted a panel on “The Economics of Race in the United States,” discussing O’Flaherty’s book of the same name. Both the book and the panel described how economic disparity cannot be attributed to income alone when some groups face discriminatory practices in lending, are more likely to be homeless and more.

The conference ended with Professor Sheryll Cashin’s look at how affluent and highly educated Americans have segregated themselves geographically and how this segregation creates disparate access to public and private resources. “No one says out loud that our public policy should be to invest more in already advantaged places and disinvest elsewhere,” Cashin said, “but that is exactly what’s happening.”

Other participants included Professors Steve Cohen, Brian Galle, Alvaro Santos, Mike Gottesman, David Super, Kris Henning, Robin West, Eloise Pasachoff and Anthony Cook. For a full list of participants and panels, click here.


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