• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Kind of Society Do We Want to Live In?

"What kind of society do we want to live in?"  This question is posed by Nancy Krieger, professor of society, human development, and health at the Harvard School of Public Health in the cover article of this month's Harvard Magazine.  The article titled, "Unequal America: Causes and consequences of the wide - and growing - gap between rich and poor," and written by Elizabeth Gudrais, states that the gap between the rich and poor in America has reached levels not reached since the Gilded Age (roughly 1870 - 1900).  

We live in a country where the prevailing wisdom suggests that anyone can "make it" if they work hard enough.  Gudrais cites the World Values Survey, which finds that "American respondents were much more likely than European respondents (71 percent versus 40 percent) to agree with the statement that the poor could escape poverty if they worked hard enough."  Also, Americans were far less likely to agree that luck was a determent in income generation.

This rugged individualism may have served us well as our nation grew.  However, I wonder about its wisdom.  All effort is contextually driven, as are all opportunities.   If the poor do not have the opportunity to eat nutritiously, to attend college, to network with hiring managers, etc, they cannot escape poverty.  

Gudrais notes that the opportunity for upward mobility forms the foundation of the American dream.  However, she points out, "analysis indicate that intergenerational mobility is no higher in the United States than in other developed democracies."  She notes that "42 percent of children born to parents in the bottom income quintile were still in the bottom quintile a adults."  In this land of opportunity, why aren't more people experiencing this upward mobility?  What are the structural, social, psychological impediments to this mobility? 

Whatever the answer, the widening income gap is troubling.  As the rich get richer, the poor continue to struggle to survive.  How can that be fair in a nation that holds as one of its core values that all people are created equal?  How can it be fair that some are excluded from the opportunities that most of us take for granted?  How do we overcome the "opportunity divide" that keeps millions of Americans from experiencing the abundance that America offers?

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