Garcia-Merritt: Income inequality can be solved through investment in education


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Opinion: Garcia 10/8

Gabe Garcia-Merritt

One of the things which frightens me about the world is how quickly things can take ugly turns. Two summers ago, I went to Spain with my best friend from high school to celebrate graduation from college, to travel and to see my family abroad. While there, we went to Madrid, where we saw the Plaza del Sol, the Santiago Bernabeu soccer stadium (Home of the Real Madrid FC), and many other iconic locations. It was an awesome summer, and besides a relatively calm group of protesters in Sol, there wasn’t very much that seemed out of place compared to prior visits to Spain I have had.

Now the city is under siege as police and protesters clash because of widespread discontent with a lack of political accountability, corruption and a decrease in social programs meant to help citizens, like healthcare. Citizens can’t afford to pay for food, let alone their rent, and the problem has gotten to be so bad that locks have had to be installed on garbage containers near supermarkets to deter people from looking for free food.

At this point, you might be asking yourself “Gabe, why should I care?” I think it is important to realize that this could happen here; indeed, many people have already been affected by similar situations. Let’s examine how the situations in Spain and here in the United States are similar.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, which published a report for the month of September, the top 5 percent of individuals in the United States increased their income by 4.9 percent between 2010 and 2011, while the lowest one-fifth of the population saw a reduction of income equal to 1.2 percent in the same timeframe. Income inequality is at its highest point in 40 years. The rich stay rich, and even increase their wealth, while others lose their tenuous hold on income.

The rich don’t have any problems in sending their children to private universities; for them, tuition payment is a non-issue, not an economic hurdle, as it is for middle and working class people. The Wall Street Journal claims that student debt in March of 2012 was at a total of $904 billion, which represents a rise of 8 percent from the same time last year; indeed, 40 percent of households headed by someone 35 or younger have such debt, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center released on Sept. 26, 2012.

Meanwhile, the elite become more wealthy, and the middle class slowly but surely loses ground.

Stepping into the “real world” is a scary endeavor, but at some point, the training wheels have to come off, and we all have to learn to keep our balance. If we fall down, we have to do our best to get back up; it’s not always easy, but you won’t go anywhere unless you try to get up.

That being said, people will sometimes need a helping hand to get back on their feet. Perhaps instead of sinking money into a bloated military budget, which according to CBS is about 18 percent of the yearly government budget ($670 billion), and has almost doubled since 2001, the government could allocate that money towards making education affordable for Americans.

By becoming educated citizens, we may be able to remedy the situation; education is a long-term investment which benefits individual citizens and the country as a whole.

The Cold War serves as a great example of this. According to the National Museum of American History, as a consequence of the launch of the Sputnik Satellite by the USSR in 1957, the federal government passed the 1958 National Defense Education Act, which gave $1 billion to promote science education at all levels of American education (equivalent to just under $8 billion today). That money created a boom in the science fields which lasted until the 1970s, shaped our current education system, and led to many of the technological advances which we have benefited from.

Investing in education would revamp existing fields by extending grants to projects that would otherwise go unfunded, create drive to study unexplored areas of knowledge, and would eventually help private industry by taking cutting-edge technology and applying it to real-world problems, and thus to the economy as a whole.

An educated populace would be beneficial not only for the economy, but for the populace itself; the more educated they are, the better prepared they will be to tackle social problems. If we are serious about dealing with inequality in our country, and raising the standards of living for everyone, education should be the priority.

Maybe if we do that, we won’t have to face a situation where our children will have to scrounge for food in dumpsters. Maybe we won’t have to suffer the fate that Spain is suffering.