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The Impacts of Wealth

Example of Paper 3 by Jenny Parker - Fall 2012.

In this final third of the course I noticed an overwhelming trend in the material to explain what makes individuals different in society, as compared to what makes them the same. In our articles and text we read about people being grouped by age, color, race, gender and socioeconomic status, all features that come together to form an individual or individual subgroups of society. We have moved away from looking at the larger aspects and functions of society and delve down more to the human, functional level, what separates us and makes us different from our neighbor.

A strong theme in these readings was the presence, or absence of wealth. It would be enormously blind to look at wealth on a one-dimensional level, to see it as something that a person either has or does not have. As our text states "differences in wealth often take the form of differences in privilege, which affect life chances as much as income does" (Giddens, 213). To be wealthy in the world and in America is not only to have a lot of money, allowing your basic needs to be easily met but also it is to have opportunities greater than those poorer than yourself. Being wealthy in America means that you have the potential to live nine years longer than your poorest neighbor (Gudrais). Being wealthy in America means that you are likely white and thus likely unaccustomed to experiencing hate violence and racism towards you and your family members (Giddens, 213). Finally, being white and being wealthy in America means that you own your own home, allowing you to save money and have the collateral needed to fund your children's expensive quality post secondary educations, allowing future generations of your family to continue the lineage of wealth and comfort (Cheng).

The upper and upper-middle classes of America make up about 25% of the American population, all making well above $170,000 per household (Giddens, 217). While this group of citizens lives very comfortably, with well-respected jobs, and strong voices in government, 75% of the population lives on a fraction of the poorest of the rich incomes (Giddens, 221). With the lower middle making up 40% of the population earning between $48-76,000 per household, it is frightening that 35%+ of the population could be making much less. The working class at 20% takes in $29-48,000 while the lower class at 15% of the total American population takes in less than $29,000 per year, per household (Giddens, 221). It is deeply concerning that over a third of Americans can barely meet their basic needs and that even the lower middle class, another third+ of the population struggles. The ratio of wage inequality between Americans as compared to other developed nations is astounding, the richest Americans were nine times richer than the poorest Americans, contrasted with the Japanese where their richest citizens were only 3.5 times wealthier than the poorest citizens (Gudrais).

Why such a huge difference between American rich and poor? The question is much more disturbing than just written numbers. In America, unlike countries like Japan, minorities tend to hold the lowest paying jobs. Incredibly, "in 2004, whites had a median net worth of $140,700, compared with $24,800 for nonwhites or Hispanics" (Giddens, 233). How is that possible? How can white Americans have over five times the financial value and resources than American minorities? The answer, sadly is racism.

America has a long and ugly history of racism, towards black people as slaves but also towards anyone who did not come from "pure white" lineage. The American government, than thus her people have participated in institutional racism, which handicapped non-white, "minority" citizens as their white neighbors thrived and built strong foundations for future generations. In the historical documentary film 'The House We Live In' we watched with horror as returning minority (especially black) war veterans returned home to buy homes with their GI bills and were blocked at every turn (Cheng). The fallout from this nationwide act of racism is still seen today. The opportunity for returning white veterans to purchase homes in the 1950's established their families as ones of wealth, comfort and opportunity well into the present. The ability to own a home, live in good neighborhoods with good schools, be able to invest in yourself and your children through your mortgage was a major contributor to our current inequality not only between class levels in America but also between races.

In America in 1950, about 15% of the population was nonwhite, while today in 2012, over 35% of the population is nonwhite. It is estimated that by 2050 nearly 45% of the American population will be nonwhite, certainly no longer logically addressed as "minorities" (Giddens, 329). With this growth though comes great concern. If the median net worth of current day minorities is roughly $25,000 and about 35% of the population is a minority, then nearly the whole American lower and working classes are made up of minorities. If indeed those who make the least amount of money in America live the shortest about of time (often with the most health challenges) then it is possible to infer that in America, due to a history of racism, minority citizens continue to pay the price for others old sins with their own lives.

In America, a land that claims to have traded equality for all for opportunity for all, there does not appear to have been a fair trade. In a country with great disparagement between rich and poor, and thus white and black/non-white, there is more than wealth that separates us. The hurdles placed in society by being born into a live of poverty makes the promise of equal opportunity a distant dream. In the words of African American comedian Chris Rock "when you're white the sky's the limit, when you're black the limit's the sky" (Rock). As terrible as it is, America is still holding the torch of racism that her white ancestors once lit. Until there is socioeconomic equality between races in America, minority citizens will continue to be denied the opportunities of their white neighbors in life and most simply, of life.

Works Cited

Cheng, Jean, dir. Race: The Power of an Illusion: The House We Live In. Historical Documentary. California Newsreel, 2003. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.

Giddens, Anthony, et.al. Introduction to Sociology. 7th Ed. New York, W. W. Norton & Co, 2009. Print.

Gudrais, Elizabeth. "Unequal America: Causes and consequences of the wide--and growing--gap between rich and poor." Harvard Magazine, Jul.-Aug. 2008. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.

Rock, Chris. Bigger & Blacker. Live Show. Dreamworks. Video. 13 Jul. 1999.