“As they say on my own Cape Cod, a rising tide lifts all the boats.”

-John F. Kennedy

“Rising tides don’t lift all boats, particularly those stuck at the bottom.”

-Reverend Jesse Jackson

President Kennedy made that declaration in 1963. Since then income inequality in the United States has greatly increased. As reported by The Economist:

Between 1970 and 2008 the Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, grew from 0.39 to 0.47. In mid-2008 the typical family’s income was lower than it had been in 2000. The richest 10 percent earned nearly half of all income, surpassing even their share in 1928, the year before the Great Crash.

Parsing these numbers further, we see that different American groups and communities experienced starkly different levels of opportunity. The African American male unemployment rate in 2007 (11.4 percent) was more than twice as high as the white male unemployment rate (5.5 percent), and the Latino male unemployment rate was also much higher (7.6 percent). The current crisis is affecting some groups and communities far more severely than others.

Any economic recovery policy should not only jump-start the economy in the short-term, but also invest in lasting opportunity for all. We must address inequalities that challenge our ability to move forward together, such as the fact that African American median household wealth is only one-tenth that of white households. As our economy continues to falter, stimulating greater and more equal opportunity remains crucial to both short-term rescue and long-term prosperity.

Meanwhile, in early 2009, 71 percent of Americans still agreed that hard work and personal skill were the main ingredients to get ahead.

Let’s work together to make our beliefs in this country closer to its reality.

For more, visit The Opportunity Agenda page on ensuring equal and expanded opportunity.

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