The documentary “Inequality for All” offers illuminating observations of the widening inequality gap Americans face every day. Professor Robert Reich, the Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration, guides the audience through a series of emotion-eliciting events of those affected by this alarming income distribution, particularly through the eyes of the middle class. The information presented influences viewers not only to consider how this gap affects the United States economy, but to even consider the validity of the notion of the ‘American Dream’ our democracy tends to pride itself on.
A challenge facing us today, which this documentary brilliantly explores, is the relationship between income inequality and democracy, and ultimately how much inequality Americans should tolerate. If this documentary’s mission is to educate and inspire, then it does just that; it presents the problems of income inequality in an enlightening way that even highlights those facets of our lives we do not exactly realize are being affected, no matter your socioeconomic position, which prompts much needed change.
The structure of this documentary enables the viewers to learn objectively about the consequences of income inequality in a way where political party labels do not cloud one’s judgment. Professor Reich admits that income inequality is certainly inevitable but presents to the viewer how every single person is affected by our current situation’s ridiculous distribution. Now, writing this almost a week after watching the documentary, my mind is still circling around this moment in the film when Nick Hanauers, an extremely successful venture capitalist, is interviewed about his income versus the lower-income families discussing how they live daily and raise families on their income. Hanauers candidly reveals he made over ten million dollars annually and does not know where all of his money is allocated throughout the facets of his life.
However, the lower- to middle-class families interviewed listed where every single dollar was allocated for that week. A woman who had only $25 in her checking account had kids at home to feed, so she spends most of her weeks scrummaging through the pantry and can barely afford to have a full tank of gas for that week in order to travel to work every day. It was devastating to see how these families could barely afford their basic needs while the venture capitalist was almost blasé about his earnings. This was particularly troubling to me because, personally, not a day goes by where I do not think about how I budget my well-earned money, and it was never a reality to me that there are people who have so much money that they do not even know where it is invested or spent. I’m not saying that this could never be a reality, but it was troubling for me to see those who are identified as ‘middle class’ cannot even afford to support a family while those in the top 1% have so much money to spend they have become detached from it.
The documentary initially shows us the alarming fact that in 1978, the typical male US worker was earning about $48,302 annually while the average person in the top 1% was making $393, 682. By 2010, the median wage decreased to $33,751, but at the top it skyrocketed to $1,101,089. In addition to this, another shocking statistic provided was that the 400 richest Americans hold the wealth of more than the bottom 150 million Americans combined. I feel that these two disturbing figures are known by little. The documentary presents not-as-widely-known reasons as to how this is happening, which I had never considered before and would be interested in exploring more. First was the fact that globalization and technology are two primary underlying issues attacking those jobs which the middle class historically thrive in (manufacturing, retail, etc.).
The effects of mom-and-pop shop closures, such as those closing due to Amazon’s growing influence, on families are not widely known. Most consumers are just enthralled by the efficiency of e-commerce but do not realize how that local employees’ living situation was just made that much harder. Secondly, the film delves into personal income tax statistics. Most citizens, including myself, believed the rich get taxed the most and descends down to the middle-and lower- incomes. It shocks me how, in reality, this is far from the current situation. Hanauers revealed he only pays about 11% in taxes on a seven-figure income. The middle-class workers revealed they payed around 33% in income tax. This applies to the entire labor force. The personal income tax percentage of the top 1% is much lower than the income of those who are middle to lower-income workers. I’d be interested as to why these statistics are not widely known. It makes me feel as if you do not read tax codes, the average worker could not necessarily take advantage of these tax loopholes the top 1% have the opportunity to.
These two reasons make me think of who is responsible for the well-being of the average American worker. Professor Reich highlights that if the middle class does not get a share of economic gains, a vicious cycle results in higher unemployment, lower education levels, lower government spending on welfare programs, etc. The middle class lies at the heart of consumption, which makes up 70% of the United States GDP. Few citizens are educated of how this negatively impacts the economy. Managers of corporations need to realize the voice of their average worker, the middle class, is what truly matters. The 2020 United States presidential election is quickly approaching, and I feel that candidates must place this income inequality gap and the middle-class worker as part of the heart of their political agenda. America could actually ‘be made great again’ with a strong middle-class who could afford to support America’s economy, rather than constantly disproportionally awarding those managers who simultaneously lay off these workers who are at the core of consumption. Income tax brackets demand to be observed and changed as well.
This film truly made me think in new ways of the obstacles the middle-class are currently encountering, and I am partly sympathetic to their situation. Clearly some changes need to be made to wages, the tax system, and workers’ voices, but there still will always be income inequality due to the nature of worker motivation. I can see how some feel as if they are stuck in their personal situation from discouragement about upward immobility, but I do not think that is a valid excuse nor paints the entire picture of those who are stuck. I am a firm believer in the American Dream and feel as if I am on a personal journey toward achieving it. I grew up in a very middle-class area of the country and fortunately had the ambition to take advantage of my education throughout elementary, middle, and high school to position myself for a better future. I recognized at a young age that education opens numerous doors of opportunity.
There could never truly be pure “equal opportunity”, and rather than complaining how your situation is much worse than others, I believe you must personally take advantage of the outlet today that will provide you for a better tomorrow. Unfortunately, the majority of people do not live their lives this way. Everyone is granted access to some sort of primary and secondary education, and people must be mature enough to believe that that is their way out of their current situation. Too many people grow up thinking life can just be handed to them and are not properly educated of how the decisions you make today affect tomorrow. Life is hard, and life isn’t fair, but your responsible for your own future and it is up to you to take advantage of every opportunity you’re granted.