Monday, October 20, 2014

The Age of Vulnerability

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-e-stiglitz/the-age-of-vulnerability_b_5978122.html

10/13/2014
 
NEW YORK -- Two new studies show, once again, the magnitude of the inequality problem plaguing the United States. The first, the U.S. Census Bureau's annual income and poverty report, shows that, despite the economy's supposed recovery from the Great Recession, ordinary Americans' incomes continue to stagnate. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, remains below its level a quarter century ago.

It used to be thought that America's greatest strength was not its military power, but an economic system that was the envy of the world. But why would others seek to emulate an economic model by which a large proportion -- even a majority -- of the population has seen their income stagnate while incomes at the top have soared?

A second study, the United Nations Development Program's Human Development Report 2014, corroborates these findings. Every year, the UNDP publishes a ranking of countries by their Human Development Index HDI, which incorporates other dimensions of well-being besides income, including health and education.

America ranks fifth according to HDI, below Norway, Australia, Switzerland and the Netherlands. But when its score is adjusted for inequality, it drops 23 spots -- among the largest such declines for any highly developed country. Indeed, the U.S. falls below Greece and Slovakia, countries that people do not typically regard as role models or as competitors with the U.S. at the top of the league tables.

The UNDP report emphasizes another aspect of societal performance: vulnerability. It points out that while many countries succeeded in moving people out of poverty, the lives of many are still precarious. A small event -- say, an illness in the family -- can push them back into destitution. Downward mobility is a real threat, while upward mobility is limited.

In the U.S., upward mobility is more myth than reality, whereas downward mobility and vulnerability is a widely shared experience. This is partly because of America's healthcare system, which still leaves poor Americans in a precarious position, despite President Barack Obama's reforms.
Those at the bottom are only a short step away from bankruptcy with all that that entails. Illness, divorce, or the loss of a job often is enough to push them over the brink.

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare") was intended to ameliorate these threats -- and there are strong indications that it is on its way to significantly reducing the number of uninsured Americans. But, partly owing to a Supreme Court decision and the obduracy of Republican governors and legislators, who in two dozen U.S. states have refused to expand Medicaid (insurance for the poor) -- even though the federal government pays almost the entire tab -- 41 million Americans remain uninsured. When economic inequality translates into political inequality -- as it has in large parts of the U.S. -- governments pay little attention to the needs of those at the bottom.

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-e-stiglitz/the-age-of-vulnerability_b_5978122.html

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