WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — There is broad public sentiment that American economic inequality has increased, with 65 percent of U.S. adults saying the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased significantly in the past decade.
The new Pew Research Center and USA Today survey finds that there is broad public agreement of a growing gap between rich and poor, and over half of Americans surveyed – 54 percent – say they favor taxing the wealthy and corporations to expand programs for the poor.
The concern over economic inequality held majority among both Republicans and Democrats, with 68 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans believing the gap is widening. But less than one week ahead of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, which is expected to unveil proposals to abate inequality and poverty, there is a clear divide in how Americans think the government should respond.
Among Democrats, 90 percent responded that the government should do “a lot” or “some” to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, with 62 percent leaning towards “a lot.” Only half that number of Republicans (45 percent) says the government should do something about the gap, and only about half that number (23 percent) says the government should do “a lot.”
Economics research from Emmanuel Saez at UC-Berkeley showed that U.S. income inequality has been steadily increasing since the 1970s, and now has reached levels not seen since 1928.
A report from British humanitarian group Oxfam International this past week finds that the 85 richest people on Earth have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population. The richest 1 percent had $110 trillion in wealth, or 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the population.
Half of Republicans say the government should do “not much” (15 percent) or “nothing at all” (33 percent) about the wealth gap.
Only 35 percent of those surveyed responded that lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations to encourage investment and economic growth would be an effective method. However, 75 percent of Democrats polled said that raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations should be used to expand programs for the poor.
Slightly less than half of Americans (44 percent) say that government aid to the poor can be harmful because it causes people to be too dependent on the government. There was a nearly 40-point divide between Democrats, who disagree with the statement, and Republicans on the dependence problem of government intervention.
Two-thirds (66 percent) of Democrats say that government aid to the poor does more good than harm because people can’t get out of poverty until basic needs are met.
The Pew and USA Today poll was conducted from Jan. 15-19 among 1,504 U.S. adults across the country.
— Benjamin Fearnow