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  • What’s the state of economic inequality in America?

    PBS NewsHour - 12/27/2013

    Effectively, this means that those states that have offered benefits for anywhere from under 26 to 73 weeks will now be limited to offering 26 weeks or less. (See what that looks like in these helpful maps from the Washington Post.)

    At the very least, a temporary suspension of emergency unemployment assistance will delay benefit checks for these 1.3 million Americans, reducing their purchasing power — not to mention their standard of living. As Northeastern University economist Barry Bluestone points out below, when poorer people can’t spend money, the economy wallows and unemploymentfor everyone remains higher.

    In light of the economic hit 1.3 million Americas are about to bear, we’re examining the state of economic inequality in America on Friday’s NewsHour. Is it a big deal? And to what extent is it related to unemployment and mobility in this country?

    Like Bluestone, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who will appear on the NewsHour Friday, argues that inequality is a problem for everyone — not just those Americans who haven’t found a job in 27 weeks. It’s “Inequality for All” — the title of the recent feature film in which he stars. Watch his conversation with Paul Solman about the moral and economic case against inequality.

    An unequal society, in which income wealth is concentrated at the top, cannot sustain an economy whose main driver is consumer spending, Reich and Bluestone agree.

    But doesn’t that inequality have its purposes? Does it not spur those in society’s lower rungs to try to move up? That is, in part, the Republican argument against extending unemployment benefits: benefits disincentivize the poor from accepting the jobs that are available to them — or from working at all.

    In 2011, libertarian law professor Richard Epstein of New York University School of Law explained how economic inequality drives innovation and motivates upward mobility.

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