America has long been heralded as the “land of opportunity,” but consider:
- The average student loan debt for the class of 2012 was $29,400; this doesn’t account for any debt accrued in graduate school.
- Between 1947 and 1972, the average hourly wage, adjusted for inflation, rose 76%. Since 1972, by contrast, the average hourly wage has risen only 4%.
- In 2011 the poverty rate for female-headed families with children was 40.9%.
- In 2009, CEOs of major U.S. corporations averaged 263 times the average compensation of American workers.
- Between 1979 and 2007, wages for the top 1% rose almost 10 times as fast as those for the bottom 90%: 156.2% versus 16.7%.
- “[T]he two years in the last hundred that mark the apogees of inequality – when the richest 1% received a record 23.5% of total income – were 1928 and 2007.”
- An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study found that almost 884,000 excess deaths per year in the United States could be attributed to high levels of income inequality.
Some degree of economic inequality occurs naturally in a free and open society, but a vibrant democracy experiencing these dramatic trends ought to be asking tough questions:
- How did the extreme inequality we find today happen?
- What are the implications of such dramatic economic inequality?
- How much inequality is too much?
- If these trends undermine the integrity of our democracy, then what can we do?
Our democracy deserves answers to these questions.
We believe that those of us in higher education have the responsibility to engage our students and communities in assembling the knowledge and skills to effectively enact change related to the complex issue of growing economic inequality.
In February, we hosted a national screening of the documentary film “Inequality for All”and a live webcast with former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich; now, we are taking our commitment to this issue a step further—join us as we embark upon an exciting inaugural joint national initiative between The Democracy Commitment and the American Democracy Project as we tackle the challenging topic of economic inequality.
This joint national initiative is being organized by teams at ADP’s Keene State College (N.H.) and TDC’s Mount Wachusett Community College (Mass.). We are looking to identify two- and four-year institutions interested in helping us engage and begin to form civic pathways around this topic. We intend this work to help students in thinking about and taking actions to confront the complex causes of growing economic inequality. We envision developing, implementing and documenting innovative, interactive curricula and experiential learning modules that can be adapted across our campuses and communities.
Learn more and help us shape this initiative at an open informational meeting and planning session at the 2014 ADP/TDC National Meeting in Louisville on Thursday, June 5 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Salon IX.
Please R.S.V.P. to Kim Schmidl-Gagne at firstname.lastname@example.org by June 2, 2014.
Note: A formal call for participation will be forthcoming after the national meeting.
Download a PDF version of this Preliminary Call for Participation here.
 Reich, R. (2013). Aftershock. New York: Vintage Books.