Ideas to lessen eco­nomic in­equal­ity:

We asked ex­perts on the right and left what they think.

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Scott Win­ship, Wells King and Josh Bevins Opin­ion con­trib­u­tors — Josh Bevins is direc­tor of re­search at the Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

We asked pol­icy ex­perts on the left and the right about how the United States can re­duce eco­nomic in­equal­ity. Here are the ideas they of­fered:

US must tackle child­hood poverty

Some peo­ple, look­ing at what hedge fund man­agers make and what se­cu­rity guards make, be­lieve the dis­par­ity to be un­just. How­ever, it is one thing to doc­u­ment eco­nomic in­equal­ity, it is an­other to show that those in­equal­i­ties have neg­a­tive con­se­quences.

Over the past 50 years, the pe­ri­ods that have seen the strong­est in­come growth at the top have also seen the big­gest de­clines in poverty and in­creases in mid­dle-class in­comes. Coun­tries with more in­equal­ity tend to have lower- and mid­dle-in­come cit­i­zens who are richer than their coun­ter­parts in na­tions with less in­equal­ity. And while in­equal­ity has risen, most ev­i­dence sug­gests that eco­nomic mo­bil­ity has been un­changed over re­cent gen­er­a­tions.

If the chil­dren of se­cu­rity guards had as good a shot as ev­ery­one else at be­com­ing hedge fund man­agers, then we would ex­pect that among kids with par­ents in the bot­tom fifth of fam­ily in­come, just one in five would re­main in the bot­tom fifth as adults. For white boys and girls, the ac­tual per­cent­ages are 28% and 33% – not far off from 20%. But for Black boys and girls, the fig­ures are 50% and 62%.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers must ad­dress en­trenched child­hood poverty – poverty in­volv­ing not just one’s fam­ily but also one’s neigh­bors, poverty that oc­curs not just tem­po­rar­ily but over many years, and poverty that spans mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions.

Do­ing so will re­quire ex­pand­ing ac­cess to high op­por­tu­nity neigh­bor­hoods, in­vest­ing in early child­hood and shoring up mar­riage where it has be­come an anom­aly.

– Scott Win­ship, res­i­dent scholar and direc­tor of poverty stud­ies at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute.

La­bor unions of­fer best op­tion

It is no co­in­ci­dence that Amer­ica has grown more un­equal as its la­bor move­ment has lost power.

In the Amer­i­can la­bor move­ment’s post­war hey­day, 1 in 3 pri­vate-sec­tor work­ers be­longed to a union. Col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing was a key driver of equal­ity, win­ning bet­ter wages and terms of em­ploy­ment – par­tic­u­larly for less skilled work­ers.

But today barely 1 in 20 pri­vate-sec­tor work­ers have a union card. As they lost their power to bar­gain col­lec­tively, work­ers’ wages stag­nated, even as cor­po­rate prof­its sky­rock­eted.

Low- and mid­dle-in­come house­holds saw their share of the na­tion’s in­come fall, and the wealth gap be­tween the na­tion’s rich­est and poor­est fam­i­lies more than dou­bled.

The steady ero­sion of unions over the past 50 years has been re­spon­si­ble for as much as a third of the rise in in­equal­ity among men and one-fifth among women.

Work­ers must have a seat at the ta­ble. But Amer­ica’s dys­func­tional la­bor laws, and the unions they sup­port, pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing.

Nearly two-thirds of Amer­i­cans ap­prove of la­bor unions, and nearly half of Amer­ica’s nonunion work­ers would vote for a union if given the op­por­tu­nity – but they also want ma­jor re­forms.

Work­ers say they would pre­fer rep­re­sen­ta­tion in a co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tion­ship with an em­ployer, even if that meant no power to make de­ci­sions, over rep­re­sen­ta­tion with real power that man­age­ment op­posed. They place a premium on col­lab­o­ra­tion with man­age­ment and in­put on cor­po­rate de­ci­sion-mak­ing and pre­fer th­ese al­ter­na­tive means of worker voice to tra­di­tional but con­fronta­tional ones like strikes.

Rather than al­low in­equal­ity to fes­ter, or try to solve it with gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion and re­dis­tri­bu­tion, or­ga­nized la­bor af­fords work­ers a means to achieve for them­selves a full share of the na­tion’s pros­per­ity.

— Wells King is re­search direc­tor of Amer­i­can Com­pass.

We need po­lit­i­cal will on wage gap

Eco­nomic in­equal­ity in the United States is real and deeply dam­ag­ing to the liv­ing stan­dards of the vast ma­jor­ity of fam­i­lies. But it’s em­i­nently fix­able so long as we’re will­ing to make a pro­nounced break with poli­cies of the past to make in­come growth a gen­uine po­lit­i­cal pri­or­ity.

The roots of in­equal­ity’s rise af­ter 1979 are in U.S. la­bor mar­kets, par­tic­u­larly in the fail­ure of pay­checks for most work­ers to rise in line with broader mea­sures of eco­nomic growth.

The steps to re­duc­ing in­equal­ity are clear: Re­build the in­sti­tu­tions and poli­cies that pro­vide work­ers lever­age and bar­gain­ing power in la­bor mar­kets, or build new ones.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers should re-tar­get gen­uine full em­ploy­ment (the Fed is mak­ing good steps in this di­rec­tion). The fed­eral min­i­mum wage should be sub­stan­tially in­creased. The right to form unions should be vig­i­lantly pro­tected. The un­em­ploy­ment in­surance sys­tem should be mod­ern­ized and made sub­stan­tially more gen­er­ous, both as a safety net dur­ing bad times but also to make the threat of job loss less cor­ro­sive to work­ers' con­fi­dence in wage bar­gain­ing with em­ploy­ers.

The real ob­sta­cle to this agenda is not find­ing the per­fect tech­no­cratic pol­icy de­sign; it’s raw po­lit­i­cal power. The real in­no­va­tion we need is a gen­uine so­cial move­ment ded­i­cated to a more equal economy.

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One way to ad­dress eco­nomic in­equal­ity is to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the fed­eral min­i­mum wage.

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