The U.S. is Now More Unequal than Much of Latin America

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The vast gap between rich and poor in Latin America has long been notorious. In fact, it grew even more during the 80s and 90s. But over the last decade, income inequality in Latin America has been rapidly decreasing, while inequality in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the other direction, as the top 1 percent of earners pulls further and further away from the middle class and poor.

Over the last half a century, income inequality in the U.S. has grown more than in any other western country. As a result, the U.S. is now one of the more unequal countries in the Americas, according to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s Statistical Yearbook, released earlier this month. Incidentally, the most equal country on the list, Uruguay, is led by a president who lives on his wife’s farm and gives 90 percent of his salary to charity, leaving himself with an income of $775 a month — in line with the average Uruguayan.

Here’s the full list, via Huffington Post:

via the Huffington Post

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  • James Hayes-Bohanan

    Thanks for posting this. Brazil is still more unequal than the U.S., but the word “Brazilianization” is no longer appropriate, as its Gini coefficient continues to decline while ours increases.

    The reason is quite simple: As Brazil’s economy grows, it is investing MORE in public health and education (at all levels), and specifically working to ensure that public higher education is not just for the already advantaged (as it had previously been, for the most part).

    We have a lot to learn from our hemispheric neighbors, if we are willing to pay attention.

  • Erin Getting

    Sad to say, but I am not sure that this will have any effect on those who live by the “pull yourself up by the bootstrap” mentality. I think it will further strengthen their belief that those who work hard in free America accomplish all they deserve and that the rest just aren’t working hard enough. I truly hope that as a nation we can start behaving as members of a community where we define its health as as strong as those who have the least.

  • Carolynn Nessie Ní Lochlainn

    I love the Uruguayan President. The first time I learned about his income redistribution I thought “Could that ever happen here?” And the answer that popped to mind wasn’t promising.

  • JonThomas

    Should we buy?
    Should we save?
    Should we spend our lives INTO sorrow?

    Or should we decree, with excitement and glee
    To rid of expenses tomorrow?!

    For capital is the pain,
    From profit no gain,
    If we work our lives into serfdom.

    If just “jobs” are the answer,
    The devil’s the dancer,
    Don’t bow yourself to his bidding…

    But I have a plan,
    And that is for man
    To tell all the bosses…

    “You’re kidding!”

    Excerpted From a longer, untitled work by a friend.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly what effect would you like it to have on people? You really think those that have the least is how we should define a society? If that’s truly the case I’ve wasted my words here, but I wanted to make sure I read it correctly.

  • Valerie Misch

    Why is it a ‘good’ thing to have as many poor folks as there are ‘rich’ folks???? Apparently the rich are creating jobs, and most of the poor are happy to have those jobs… there will ALWAYS be a segment of society (especially in a society, like the US, which seems to produce a high percentage of ‘you owe me’ citizens) that won’t, or can’t, work. But having more ‘rich’, more business owners, more job providers, would be a good thing, no???

  • Mel Haun Sr

    There is one word to describe where we have been going these last 30 or so years.. GREED! No person needs the second yacht when his or her employees need food stamps. When the Reagan admin started its war on Unions, I knew we were in for some rough years.

  • Linda

    This is exactly what the Corporations want if the people are desperate enough they will work under any conditions and for whatever the Corporations want. Take away medicaid, social security, medicare and welfare, school lunches, college tuition, birth control, abortion and any assistance at all for anyone needing it and what have you got, The GOP PLAN!

  • Joelle Deloison

    And where does Cuba stand on that chart?

  • puck90

    Wow! they illustrated your point beautifully

  • Anonymous

    I personally agree with the “pull yourself up by the bootstrap” mentality, when it is applied to a basically even playing field. Unfortunately, because of business practices and government policies instituted over the last 30 years or so, the game is rigged by and toward the “haves” and against the “have-nots” in increasingly extreme ways. Anyone with the barest scrape of historical and political science knowledge understands that a stable democracy requires a healthy, and preferably thriving, middle class. Our middle class- with the exception of a period in the 1990’s- has been shrinking the last 30 years, and that is a fact! When the masses begin believing that, no matter how hard they work to “pull themselves up,” they will continue to slide down- or, at best, tread water- civil unrest and even revolution are on the horizon. I would rather not see that in my country.

  • TB at

    Is anyone surprised? Man, I’m not. It’s just the way things have been going. *sigh

  • Eddie

    Exxon, the richest company in the us, paid no tax in 2009 and a little over 17% in 2010. GE made 14 billion dollars and paid no taxes. The poor can get free airtime for a cell phone, a housing allowance, food stamps and a debit card that is loaded with money by the government.
    In Americas boom time, 40s-70’s, the average CEO made 40 to 60 times that of their highest paid employee, today that number is around 500 times.
    I don’t wan’t what isn’t mine, I just want a level playing field.

  • MaxI

    Thank you great post.

    The solution and problem:
    Hartmann – No more billionaires!

    and potentially the worst case scenario:

    Fascism… it can happen here

  • Lo

    The theory of the capitalist social contract is that the wealthy provide jobs for the workers and the workers, by their labor, make money for the upper class. Wealth, in a capitalist system does not just trickle down; it flows up as well. If we wish to preserve capitalism as a viable system, we cannot forget that the equation has two sides, each vital to the other, and that the worker is just as vital to the system is the provider of capital. The attitude that the rich provide everything and the workers sit around and benefit from their largesse is paternalistic and patronizing. And the extreme and growing disparity between the rich and the poor is wrong and harmful.

  • Rosa Maria Pegueros

    With deep respect for Bill Moyers, I must question this chart and this use of statistics. If one drives along the West Side highway in New York City, one sees block after block of buildings owned by Donald Trump. One can argue that the poorest New Yorker does not
    earn a smidgen of Donald Trump’s income, but that does not mean that the great
    majority of New Yorkers are impoverished. How many New Yorkers have no running
    water? No sewer system? No electricity? How many residents of the favelas in
    Rio de Janeiro would welcome the income of a poor New Yorker? How do poor New
    Yorkers measure up against poor Floridians? Or poor rural Kentuckians? How do rich Missourians measure up against rich Beverly Hills residents? What exactly is being measured here? The situation is far more complicated than can be measured by these isolated statistics.

  • Owen Johnson

    Rosa, I think you’re trying to read more into the chart than is intended. these aren’t “isolated statistics” they’re general statistics. Following your line of thinking, we could ask the same about the other countries, and would have to to make it relevant.

  • Owen Johnson

    Several of the countries above the United States (with lower numbers on the chart) have growing economies and a growing middle class. Some have been steadily climbing out of 3rd World status, while the US is sliding into it.

    I’ve seen just as much positive change in Mexico over the past 25 years as I’ve seen negative change in the United States. I’m typing this right now while connected by DSL in Mexico and when I drive down the street there are just as many cars I can’t afford – driven by Mexicans – as there are old clunkers.

  • ProphetKevin Ives

    The problem I think is the white people in the South and rural areas outside of the South. Their whiteness and culture is privileged in society and that privilege is perceived as being under attack by them because of immigration, so they only vote for people they feel will continue that privilege (Your Sarah Palins and Todd Atkins and whatnot). That makes it so that the Democrats have such a low bar to overcome (IE not saying anything that could be construed as racist or pro-rape) that they don’t really have to have a platform other than not being the party that includes Sarah Palin.

    I also think the news covering stories about Kim Kardashian is probably not such a good thing for democracy too. The press should be attacking people in power, not ignoring them or giving them good PR.

  • plainsworker

    Chicago School Blues….

  • Bernard Terway

    I can never get an answer to a question – What good is a billion dollars if you don’t do good with it?

  • Amtak in the US

    Clearly, Ms. Misch, you have never resided in or even visited any of the truly disadvantaged communities in the U.S. or elsewhere; nor have you experienced the grinding “no exit” life of a person in poverty. Pity. You remain ignorant of what desperation exists for people who work hard or want to work hard but get nowhere because of the way we have chosen to structure our economy and legal system. And, FYI, “more rich and more business owners” dos not translate into “more job providers”. Too often, with today’s technology, it reduces jobs and job providers. Jeez. Where did you go to school?

  • JonThomas

    While I tend to agree with your over-all point regarding the patronizing attitude held by those who think themselves a “job-creating class,” along with what you had to say about the flow of capital as it happens to act under current conditions, the “theory” you mention also deserves inspection.

    The “Social Contract,” as a theory, generally refers to an unsigned contract between Governments and Citizens. To add the word…’capitalist,” then assume there should be such a contract between a ‘wealthy,’ business-owner class and a ‘worker’ class is a fallacy.

    Such a theory seeks to make a condition fit an equation. Just because conditions exist which require individuals to work for an employer in order to earn an exchangeable currency, does not mean that there is any other contract other than that between such individuals and each respective employer. These individual contracts are actual, lawful, defensible contracts between each worker and their employer.

    There is no grand “Capitalist Social Contract,” it does not exist in practice, nor in theory.

    For anyone to even suggest such a ‘contract’ is to demean and subject every person who chooses to enter into an employment contract through a choice of freewill. It attempts to create a class society of ‘Employers’ and ‘Employees.” These terms(’employer’ and ’employee’) are not due to some grand theory, or preexisting status, but rather simply a conditional state dependent only upon the choices of the 2 parties in question!

  • Steven Bowers

    Government involvement is what skews this in favor of one group or another. It is government regulations that keep out those that are trying to make it. They serve to insulate segments of the economy for the benefit of those that have already made it. The last thing we need is more government in the equation.

  • Richard

    Where are the Canadians,Eh?

  • Elizabeth Kinney

    You clearly don’t get the point. The idea is to broaden the scope of society that benefits from growth, not bring everybody down.
    Now the so-called job creators are sitting on all their cash or moving it to fiscal havens abroad. The 1% have made out big during this crisis, as the numbers show. Why aren’t they creating jobs? In the capitalist system that we have all embraced it is demand that creates jobs; they don’t just fall out of the sky. The 1% have detached themselves from society and the nation-state and do not see their interests even slightly in line with those of average people. Unlike during the Great Depression, they see no benefit in budging an inch for the benefit of some greater good. Now it’s all a zero-sum game for them. We call it predatory capitalism.

  • Elizabeth Kinney

    This is the argument that Republicans love to hear and use ad nauseum. They argue that the poor in the USA actually have it pretty good: a tv, fridge, car, phone, etc. EAsy trap to fall into. Many slaveowners argued that blacks had it better in the south than in Africa (and some moronic politician or public figure recently brought that one back). Let’s think hard before embracing their harmful il-logic!

  • Pat Loudoun

    More unequal? What a joke. But a nice admission that the left’s goal is true equality – Poverty for all! Except of course, for Bill Moyers.

  • mastershakej

    Canada isn’t Latin American.

  • mastershakej

    Mujica (Uruguay’s president) is indeed a kind and generous man…but not fit to be a leader. He lets Argentina, and more specifically Cristina Kirchner (president of Argentina) use Uruguay as a punching bag. As Argentina has suffered from Cristina’s policies over the past couple years, Argentina has punched Uruguay harder and harder, and it’s making it totally impossible for Uruguay to succeed or find its potentia… or even to feel safe from its own youth(under 18 is basically totally unprosecutable in Uruguay, even for murder) It’s kind of sad really. Chile, on the other hand, is really moving in the right direction (away from Argentina, and towards an open/global economy).

  • mastershakej

    Tell that to the Brazilians protesting now, they’d be surprised to hear that their gov is investing in public health and education, they’ve never seen it. No, Brazil was simply in its boom cycle recently, and that’s why it seemed to be doing so well, but now it’s entering its bust cycle, this is a very old boom/bust story for Brazil.
    If you want a real example of a wonderful South American nation passing USA, then you need to look to Chile, as it’s the only real success in LatAm. Uruguay’s OK, but it lets itself get kicked around by Argentina constantly, so until they stop letting themselves get pushed in the mud by big, bad, Argentina, they’ll never really get anywhere. Chile’s the one.

  • Inquizative

    The most awful part of about it is that the decision makers, the ACTUAL decision makers really don’t care, AT ALL. Totally consumed with narcissism, arrogance and sociopathic greed.