Imag­in­ing our econ­omy as a Mo­nop­oly game

Kent County News - - OPINION - By JILL RICHARD­SON Other Words

As a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor in com­mu­nity col­lege, I have my stu­dents play Mo­nop­oly. Only, I give them a spe­cial, rigged ver­sion.

There are five play­ers. The wealth­i­est be­gins with $ 5,500, all of the rail­roads, and the two most valu­able prop­er­ties, Board­walk and Park Place. The least wealthy be­gins with about $ 200 and no prop­erty. The re­main­ing three are in be­tween.

Each time the play­ers pass Go, the wealth­i­est player gets $ 500. The poor­est gets $ 30.

It doesn’t take long be­fore the poor­est two play­ers run out of money en­tirely. It’s an un­fair, bor­ing game.

This is the game all Amer­i­cans are play­ing.

The wealth­i­est player’s start­ing as­sets are pro­por­tional to the wealth­i­est 20 per- cent of Amer­i­cans. The poor­est player’s start­ing as­sets are pro­por­tional to the poor­est fifth of the U. S. pop­u­la­tion. The re­main­ing three are pro­por­tional to the re­main­ing three- fifths of the coun­try.

Like­wise, the money they re­ceive as they pass Go is linked to the in­come of each fifth of the U. S. pop­u­la­tion.

For the rich­est play­ers in the game, it’s prob­a­bly the best Mo­nop­oly game of their lives. For the rest, es­pe­cially the two poor­est, it’s a night­mare.

I’m sick of play­ing this game in real life. Where I live, in Cal­i­for­nia, about one­fifth of the pop­u­la­tion lives in poverty and an­other fifth lives just above the poverty line. And the of­fi­cial poverty line doesn’t even con­sider the cost of liv­ing.

Since I moved here, nearly 12 years ago, the cost of rent has dou­bled. Ar­eas that used to be af­ford­able no longer are. You could once find a way to make it work by liv­ing far from the beach in an un­trendy neigh­bor­hood or sub­urb. Now you can’t.

Some spec­u­late that Airbnb is driv­ing up rental costs, and ev­ery­one speaks of an “af­ford­able hous­ing cri­sis.” But no­body’s do­ing any­thing about it.

For the wealthy, life here is great. We’ve got beaches, moun­tains, desert and year­round good weather. For the peo­ple who serve them their food, clean their homes or land­scape their lawns, the cost of rent alone is stran­gling.

In the U. S. over­all, wages haven’t kept up with ei­ther in­fla­tion or pro­duc­tiv­ity over the years. Since 1973, pro­duc­tiv­ity has in­creased by 77 per­cent while wages in­creased by only 12.4 per­cent. Tak­ing in­fla­tion into con­sid­er­a­tion, wages have re­mained stag­nant since the 1960s, while most of the gains go to the wealth­i­est.

Av­er­age pay keeps up with cost of liv­ing bet­ter in some parts of the U. S. than oth­ers. Cal­i­for­nia isn’t even the worst.

I watch my stu­dents try to com­plete a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion while strug­gling to make ends meet.

The mid­dle class vi­sion of par­ents pay­ing for their chil­dren’s col­lege ed­u­ca­tion and their liv­ing ex­penses isn’t a re­al­ity for many stu­dents. For some fam­i­lies it’s the op­po­site — the child works to put him or her­self through school while con­tribut­ing to the fam­ily bud­get.

At­tend­ing school and work­ing at the same time is dif­fi­cult, and some­times im­pos­si­ble. Some stu­dents at­tempt it while rais­ing chil­dren or car­ing for sick or el­derly fam­ily mem­bers. In the end, most com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dents never get a four- year de­gree.

We need to make our coun­try fairer than my rigged Mo­nop­oly game. In a game, it’s just a bum­mer when the poor­est play­ers go broke first. In life, the costs are in hu­man mis­ery.

OtherWords colum­nist Jill Richard­son is pur­su­ing a Ph. D. in so­ci­ol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin- Madi­son. She lives in San Diego. Dis­trib­uted by OtherWords. org.

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