A recent survey conducted by the AP found that more than 3 dozen economists agree: the gap between the rich and rest in America is having a detrimental impact on our economy. It's the same thing that's been said for years, but rarely has there been as much consensus as now.
Part of the reason for this is that the gap between the rich and everyone else has grown larger than at any time in our history. The growth in the stock market has resulted in an even greater boost to the affluent, while those benefits have not had much impact on the majority of Americans. Also, while more jobs are being created, they are consistently low-wage jobs that keep people below, at, or barely above the poverty line.
Economists now seem to agree that these trends are harmful to our economy as a whole, but it's by no means a new idea. There have always been people who say that greater inequality is bad, and that a strong middle class is essential to a healthy economy. Yet we are seeing a shrinking middle class, a growing number of people struggling on minimum wage or low-wage jobs, and more and more people making it, but barely.
There are some good signs for the economy. Housing is stabilizing, credit is loosening up, there are more jobs to be found, and more investment. But if we don't address the issues of inequality, and do more to support those at the bottom of the economic ladder, we aren't going to see nearly as many gains as we could.
UPDATE: It seems this story was released at an auspicious time. Another article, this one written by Anthony Orlando, takes a stab at this same issue, and comes to the same conclusion. This is actually a much better article than the one linked above, as it gives more direct evidence for its findings and, in my opinion, is better written.
And that's not all. Do you remember back in the last campaign cycle, when Newt Gingrich suggested that poor kids should be put to work cleaning up their schools after they were done for the day? Well, Georgia Republican Jack Kingston has made a similar proposal. This one involves forcing poor kids who receive free/reduced lunch to work for it by sweeping the floor or doing other menial tasks. Mr. Kingston even says "yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money." His argument, of course, is that it would instill the right values in those kids, namely that there's no such thing as a free lunch.
The thing that bothers me about Mr. Kingston's proposal, aside from the obvious issues with child labor laws and the ethical ramifications of forcing the poor to work for what the rich are given, is that it is ridiculous to suggest that kids in elementary school will even get the concept by being forced to work for food. When I was a kid, and I got lunch at school, I knew that my parents paid for it, but it wasn't a concept I understood. I just knew that I brought a check once a week, and I got my lunch. It didn't instill the idea in me that there's no such thing as a free lunch; that came from my parents. If Mr. Kingston wants to teach kids that they have to work for what they earn, then revamp the school system so that kids are challenged, and have to work for good grades. Or, ensure that their parents can get good-paying jobs so that they see their parents go to work each day and see their lives get easier and better because of it. Those examples of working for your success will be better for kids than forcing them to work before they can eat.