KYW Regional Affairs Council

“Princes & Paupers”


By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The “Occupy” movement has based its call to action on the concentration of wealth in the top one percent of Americans, but what exactly are the social implications of income inequality?

Historian James Adams coined the phrase “the American dream” in 1931.  It’s not motor cars and high wages, he explained, it’s a dream that everyone will be able to attain “the fullest stature of which they are capable… regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Sister Nora Nash, director of corporate social responsibility for the Sisters of St. Francis, in Aston, Pa., sees income inequality killing the dream.

nash nora sister  loeb side Part 3:  Killing The American Dream?

(Sister Nora Nash. Credit: Pat Loeb)

“You are beginning to see a lot of people in our society who have become disenfranchised,” Nash (right) told KYW Newsradio recently.  “Not only have they become disenfranchised, but you see other things take over such as crime, drugs, and illnesses.”

These are social ills that have long been associated with poverty, but sociologists have found rates of illness, mortality, and behavioral health issues correlate even more closely with income inequality.

kaufman robert temple soc Part 3:  Killing The American Dream?

(Prof. Robert Kaufman. Credit: Pat Loeb)

The clearest social casualty of income inequality is upward mobility.  People have a harder time climbing the ladder when the rungs are farther apart and, as Bob Kaufman, head of the sociology department at Temple University, notes, being born wealthy is the best way to become wealthy.

“The social capital, of course, is much higher for people in more well-off, better-to-do neighborhoods, in terms of the contacts and resources that they have,” Kaufman says.

That seems unfair to activist minister Micah Sims. He doesn’t begrudge the wealthy their advantages but he thinks there should be more equality.

sims micah side Part 3:  Killing The American Dream?

(Micah Sims. Photo provided)

“This is really about creating a level playing field where everybody has the right to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Sims (right) says.

Listen to the podcast…

VIDEO: Sociologist Richard Wilkinson presents results of studies on income inequality and social outcomes.

Watch & Listen LIVE