My most vivid memory of math class last year was when we did Markov chains on income over generations in the United States. Very few people rose from lower class to middle class and even fewer rose from lower to upper class. At the time, I was extremely surprised at the income immobility shown through this Markov chain, since I’ve always heard about how America is the land of opportunity. But slowly, I internalized just how skewed opportunity is in our country and around the world.
A large part of this gap comes from lack of education and opportunity (or education inequality comes from this gap — I guess it’s a case of the chicken or the egg). Growing up in Silicon Valley, lack of opportunity has always been something I knew existed, but never experienced and rarely thought about.
Over the summer, a close friend suggested I listen to this NPR American Life broadcasting from some high schoolers in the Bronx (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/550/three-miles). Towards the end of the broadcast, I was close to tears. These people lacked what I held the dearest: knowledge and education. They didn’t have access to machine shops, computer labs, or quality libraries. Heck, most of them didn’t even consider college as a possibility, and only knew the names of a few who attended. One person, among the few who were selected to receive a financial scholarship to attend college, was unable to ask for help to buy textbooks. His lack of confidence due to his poor background made him feel out of place among richer classmates, and he dropped out.
After listening to this broadcast, I vowed that if there is one social issue I want to contribute to in the future when I have money and influence, it is closing the gap between the rich and poor. I know next to nothing about the economy and education theory, but when I do I’m going to help people see the power in knowledge and give them confidence that they can succeed.
I’ve heard people say that Bernie Sanders is a “one-issue candidate” because he talks about income inequality far too much, but after following some of his campaign I realized that many issues (police brutality, health care, corrupt political finance system, education inequality, etc.) come back to the large and widening gap between the rich and poor. His views are not radical — they are extending basic human rights and raising standards of living for everyone. He’s not arguing for communism, and income inequality will always be an issue as long as capitalism exists. Rather, he is seeing how wide this gap is, and telling us Americans that the government needs to make this a foreground issue in order to maintain the well-being of our nation.
It’s not like the poor don’t try, and it’s not like the rich are superior in any way. The majority of the rich are just lucky. I’ve been handed a silver plate and an easy path, and I’ve taken much of it for granted. Maybe I’m overly naive and idealistic, but this disparaging wealth inequality in our nation is not something that should be normalized. We should fight it, and fight it hard.