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New Orleans, Atlanta lead nation in rich-poor gap

31st October 2011   ·   0 Comments

Baton Rouge also makes the top 10 list

Atlanta and New Orleans have the widest income gap between rich and poor of all the major U.S. cities, according to a U.S. Census report released Wednesday. Atlanta has the highest rich-poor gap with New Orleans finishing second, followed by the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C.

Areas with the highest income inequality “tend to be found in cities, with older housing on average, while the most income-segregated areas … tend to be found in the suburbs,” the census reported.

Rounding out the list of 10 big cities with the largest gaps between high and low income are Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Gainesville, all in Florida; Athens, Ga.; New York; Dallas; and Baton Rouge, La.

The major cities with the lowest income inequality were almost all in the West, and all had much smaller populations.

The U.S. recession that began in 2007 took a steep toll across the country, with only a few places spared from a rise in jobless rates and a decline in incomes. Nearly two years after the recession officially ended in 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate remains above nine percent, and the poverty rate tops 15 percent.

Income levels have taken a dip for families nationwide. For example, median household income dipped to $49,445 in 2010 — the lowest since 1996, census figures showed.

The agency also pulled back to look at the states. New York has the widest gap between rich and poor, followed by Connecticut and Louisiana. Using three separate measures, the Census found those states, along with Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and California, have greater income inequality than the nation as a whole.

Utah, Alaska and New Hamp­shire have the smallest rich-poor gaps.

Outrage and frustration about the enormous wealth divide has led to nationwide protests that began as “Occupy Wall Street” and have spread to cities like Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles and Oakland among others. Protesters have referred to themselves as “the 99 percent,” a reference to data that show one percent of U.S. residents control the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth while the other 99 percent struggle to carve out a living for themselves and their families.

A day before the Census report was released, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed evicted protesters from Occupy Atlanta. About 200 people gathered in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park late last week to come up with a reorganization plan for Occupy Atlanta and to find a new place to encamp.

Occupy Oakland was also evicted last week by the City of Oakland, Calif., which riot police authority to use rubber bullets, flash grenades and smoke bombs to evict Occupy Oakland.

Occupy NOLA protesters told FOX 8 News in New Orleans last week that its numbers are growing considerably with the arrival of some of the city’s homeless population to the encampment at Duncan Plaza. The City of New Orleans evicted dozens of homeless New Orleanians from Duncan Plaza in 2007, saying that it was necessary to remove them in order too demolish several buildings in the area. Once the homess were evicted, the city placed a fence around Duncan Plaza to keep them out.

GOP presidential candidate raised the ire of many poor, working-class and middle-class Americans when he said that the nation’s poor have no one to blame but themselves for being poor.

“We have this growing elite that makes the economy of the United States look more like a banana republic than an economic democracy,” Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois told CBS News in September.

“A bias toward the desires of the wealthiest Americans has resulted in policies that critics say exacerbate the wealth and income divide — among them reduced capital gains tax rates, deregulation of the financial system and a reduction of tax rates on high earners,” CBS News reported. “They say many politicians largely serve the wealthy and leave those on the bottom behind, pointing out that the minimum wage is currently lower than it was 30 years ago after accounting for inflation.”

The growing wealth gap is “not an accident or a force of nature, it’s clearly the result of public policy,” Congresswoman Schakowsky told CBS News.

While Schakowsky conceded that Democrats in Washington share some of the blame for the wealth divide, she told CBS News that Republicans are largely responsible for the widening income gap, pointing to a policy-based “attack on organized labor” and other initiatives.

“I would say that much more of this has to be laid at the feet of Republicans,” she said. “Surely the way out is being blockaded by the Republicans. I don’t know that there’s any economist right now that would say it’s more important to reduce the debt and deficit then to spend and create jobs and stimulate the economy. It’s just wrong.”

In their 2010 book Winner-Take-All Politics, political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson examined the structural methods through which Washington produces policy that benefits high-income Americans. The key, they found, was the organized pressure put on lawmakers — which includes lobbying, campaign contributions, ginned-up “grassroots” movements and implicit or explicit threats to support rivals.

“Congress is really often responding to organized pressure,” Pierson told CBS News. “So organization matters enormously, and that has an implication for inequality because businesses and the affluent tend to be a lot more organized than anybody else.”

This article was originally published in the October 31, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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