“The United States of Inequality – Entry II” by Timothy Noah

Reference: Slate

The full text of this article can be found on the Slate website at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_great_divergence/features/2010/the_united_states_of_inequality/the_usual_suspects_are_innocent.html

Most discussion about inequality in the United States focuses on race and gender. That makes sense, because our society has a conspicuous history of treating blacks differently from whites and women differently from men. Black/white and male/female inequality persist to this day. The median annual income for women working full time is 23 percent lower than for their male counterparts. The median annual income for black families is 38 percent lower than for their white counterparts. The extent to which these imbalances involve lingering racism and sexism or more complex matters of sociology and biology is a topic of much anguished and heated debate.

But we need not delve into that debate, because the Great Divergence can’t be blamed on either race or gender. To contribute to the growth in income inequality over the past three decades, the income gaps between women and men, and between blacks and whites, would have to have grown. They didn’t.

The black/white gap in median family income has stagnated; it’s a mere three percentage points smaller today than it was in 1979. This lack of progress is dismaying. So is the apparent trend that, during the current economic downturn, the black/white income gap widened somewhat. But the black/white income gap can’t be a contributing factor to the Great Divergence if it hasn’t grown over the past three decades. And even if it had grown, there would be a limit to how much impact it could have on the national income-inequality trend, because African-Americans constitute only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Women constitute half the U.S. population, but they can’t be causing the Great Divergence because the male-female wage gap has shrunk by nearly half. Thirty years ago the median annual income for women working full-time was not 23 percent less than men’s, but 40 percent less. median weekly incomes because women are more likely to take time off over the course of the year, but weekly incomes followed a near-identical trend. Among part-time workers, women now enjoy a higher median weekly income than men. This is mainly because female part-time workers tend to be older than male part-time workers”>Most of these gains occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s; during the past five years they halted. But there’s every reason to believe the male-female income gap will continue to narrow in the future, if only because in the U.S. women are now better educated than men. Ever since the late 1990s female students have outnumbered male students at colleges and universities. The female-male ratio is currently 57 to 43, and the U.S. Department of Education expects that disparity to increase over the next decade.

The full text of this article can be found on the Slate website at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_great_divergence/features/2010/the_united_states_of_inequality/the_usual_suspects_are_innocent.html