by Edie Rasell
“While the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.” The New York Times reports that Stanford University Professor Sean Reardon has found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students grew by about 40% since the 1960s and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites. (A brief summary of Reardon’s research is here.) His analysis ended in 2007. Our on-going economic crisis is likely exacerbating the achievement differences.
Like Reardon, many respected researchers find economic conditions (such as income) are driving widening gaps in social outcomes including educational achievement. But some people hold the opposite view: that social forces and moral values drive economic outcomes.
Toward the end of the New York Times article referred to above, the reporter writes about a recent book by Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray argues that the growing income gap between the rich and lower-income whites is NOT being driven by economic conditions but by social forces including the breakdown of moral values.
Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman challenges Murray’s logic and points out that entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen by nearly one-quarter since 1973 (adjusted for inflation) while employer-provided health insurance, which covered 65% of these men in 1980, covered just 29% in 2009. Today workers without some post-high school education or training (and a fair amount of luck) have trouble finding work at all, and extreme difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Krugman writes, “Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse.”
Maybe we all need better morals. But we certainly need jobs, a boost in wages particularly on the lower end of the wage scale, and universal health insurance coverage. Income inequality threatens our democracy and violates God’s dream of fullness of life for all people.
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Edith (Edie) Rasell, Ph.D. * Minister for Economic Justice *Justice and Witness Ministries
United Church of Christ * 700 Prospect Ave., E., Cleveland, Ohio 44115-1100
tollfree: 1-866-822-8224, ext. 3709; 216-736-3709 * email@example.com