US : the country of inequalities US : the country of inequalities
Incarceration Which brings us to our last category, and one of the scariest. America’s prisons and jails have produced a new social group. A... US : the country of inequalities

Did you know that the poorest half of the US owns only 2.5% of the country’s wealth? How much do you think the top 1% owns, then? Try 35% of the national wealth.

The Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality published an article called “20 Facts About US Inequality that Everyone Should Know”. This facts are really 20 categories in which inequalities are raging in the country, from education to health care or even race (surprised?).

We all know the so-called “American Dream”, a delusion of an utopian version of democracy. The United States might once have been a land of opportunities, but it stands now as the richest and one of the most unequal country of all.

Let’s have a look at four of the categories at the core of the issue (Income and poverty, Health Care, Education and Incarceration) :

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Incarceration

Which brings us to our last category, and one of the scariest. America’s prisons and jails have produced a new social group. A group of social outcasts who are joined by the shared experience of incarceration, crime, poverty, racial minority, and low education.

The most important social fact is the inequality in penal confinement, a profound institutionalized inequality that has renewed race and class disadvantage. It produces phenomenal rates of incarceration among young African American men with no more than a high school education.

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(Figure 3: Percentage of Men Aged Twenty to Thirthy-Four in Prison or Jail, by Race/Ethnicity and Education, 1980 and 2008 – Bruce Western and Becky Pettit on mass incarceration)

Among young African American men with high school diplomas, about one in ten is in prison or jail. This number is even scarier for African Americans who have dropped out of high school: more than one in three. Most of the growth in incarceration rates in concentrated at the very bottom, among young men with very low levels of education. The ubiquity of penal confinement in the lives of young African American men with little schooling is historically novel, emerging only in the last decade.

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(Figure 4: US Census and Bureau of Justice Statistics, Graph: Peter Wagner 2004).

However, this new reality is only half the story of understanding the significance of mass incarceration in America. The other half of the story concerns the effects of incarceration on social and economic inequality. Correctional experts have long understood that releasing incarcerated people to the streets without job training, an education, or money is the perfect formula for recidivism and re-incarceration. While the fact that people released from prison have difficulties finding employment is well-documented, there is much less information on the role that poverty and opportunity play in who ends up behind bars in the first place. The findings of the Bureau of Justice Statistics are as predictable as disturbing: the America prison system is bursting with people who have been shut out of the economy and who had neither a quality education nor access to good jobs. In 2014, incarcerated people had a median annual income which was 41% less than non-incarcerated people of similar ages.

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(Figure 5: Median annual incomes for incarcerated people prior to incarceration and non-incarcerated people ages 27-42, in 2014 dollars, by race/ethnicity and gender).

Through the incarceration rate is now nearly eight times its historic average, the scale of punishment today gains it social force from its unequal distribution. And as an outcast group, the men and women in the US penal institution have little access to social mobility, therefore sustaining other inequalities as well.

Summing up !

Inequalities need to be America’s main concern, since they are the source of every deeply entrenched problem in the country. Indeed, guns and race, America’s birth defects, are both mostly triggered by inequalities. This is why politicians like Bernie Sanders address it as the top one priority. America was once a land of equal opportunities. Thus, since it never had kings or nobility, it might not be realising today that its elites are calcifying. 

“We have no idea how unequal our society has become” – Nicholas Fitz for Scientific American.

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Violeta Campos

étudiante à HEC Paris. J'ai passé toute ma scolarité au Lycée Français de Madrid, puis j'ai intégré Janson de Sailly (Paris) en prépa ECE. Mon amour pour les maths, l'éco (un peu) et les langues me poussent à écrire pour vous aujourd'hui !