To the editor,

New York State has the most unequal income distribution in the nation, with the fewest people capturing the greatest share. Not since the Gilded Age of the 1920s has our state seen such a vast divide between the highest- and lowest-income New Yorkers. Without intervention, that gap is expected to continue growing.

While most New Yorkers, like most Americans, tend to think of themselves as middle-class, the truth is that New York State is unequaled in income inequity. For the majority, it is harder than ever just to keep pace, and many are even falling behind. Unless we act to grow and strengthen the middle class, the income gap will continue to widen, and more New Yorkers will find themselves economically disadvantaged.”

By 2015, the top 1 percent of New Yorkers captured nearly one-third of all income (nearly 10 percentage points more than the national average and at an accelerating pace) while most workers found themselves excluded from such striking -- or even modest — real income gains. Since 1973, across the nation and in our state, despite the multiple periods of economic instability, the top 1 percent of income earners have captured a more significant share of income growth than the bottom 99 percent.  

Far from immune to the growing wealth gap, the middle class is under stress. Post-war economic and social policies were designed to grow and strengthen the middle class by ensuring that the larger share of income gains went to the bottom 99 percent of the country’s income earners. While racism and discrimination undeniably limited the reach of these policies, by keeping African Americans, women, and other groups from sharing in the economic gains. Nonetheless, the post-war experience shows that the U.S. economy is capable of strong growth paired with a large and growing middle class. There is no reason middle-class growth could not be achieved today while also including these previously excluded groups in the shared prosperity.”

 New York is a particularly extreme example, but rising inequality is a problem across all areas of the nation. Now is our chance to reverse the trend and lead the country by adopting sound economic and social policies that promote growth and development for the many rather than the few so that all New Yorkers have an equal chance at opportunity.

The Fiscal Policy Institute urges  urges Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York Legislature to implement responsible tax policies such as strengthening and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and Empire State Child Credit; closing tax loopholes and rethinking the tax rate for the top 1 percent;  increasing job opportunity by investing in infrastructure and renewable resources; and boosting job quality with stronger labor standards; and preparing for the future with adequately funded child-care, K-12 education and higher education programs.    

Jonas Shaende

Chief Economist

The Fiscal Policy Institute

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