David Brooks: blue inequality versus red inequality (exemplified by places like Naperville)

David Brooks approaches inequality in America a little differently than the 1% vs. 99% of Occupy Wall Street. He suggests that there are two big kinds of inequality and the suburban/smaller city kind is more important:

In the first place, there is what you might call Blue Inequality. This is the kind experienced in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Houston and the District of Columbia. In these places, you see the top 1 percent of earners zooming upward, amassing more income and wealth…

Then there is what you might call Red Inequality. This is the kind experienced in Scranton, Des Moines, Naperville, Macon, Fresno, and almost everywhere else. In these places, the crucial inequality is not between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent. It’s between those with a college degree and those without. Over the past several decades, the economic benefits of education have steadily risen. In 1979, the average college graduate made 38 percent more than the average high school graduate, according to the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke. Now the average college graduate makes more than 75 percent more.

Moreover, college graduates have become good at passing down advantages to their children. If you are born with parents who are college graduates, your odds of getting through college are excellent. If you are born to high school grads, your odds are terrible…

[Compared to the attention paid to the wealthiest 1%], the fact is that Red Inequality is much more important. The zooming wealth of the top 1 percent is a problem, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as the tens of millions of Americans who have dropped out of high school or college. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the 40 percent of children who are born out of wedlock. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the nation’s stagnant human capital, its stagnant social mobility and the disorganized social fabric for the bottom 50 percent.

Interesting analysis. Some quick thoughts:

1. Though I didn’t quote it above, Brooks argues further that getting mad at the 1% is easier than dealing with issues like family and education that affect so many people. Brooks is probably right here. This doesn’t necessarily mean that people shouldn’t be upset about the top 1%  but Brooks is suggesting they could do much more good focusing on the bigger, yet more difficult to deal with, issues.

2. Is Brooks dealing with the same kind of concerns expressed in the Moynihan Report that was vilified for years?

3. If Brooks thinks that college is the answer, I’d be interested to see his plan of action in order to pay for all of this and provide the educations necessary to getting to a college experience. Brooks is not alone in suggesting college is the answer but this is not an easy plan to accomplish either.

4. It is interesting that Naperville is mentioned among other Red State cities. Naperville is located in a clearly Republican county (though the Republican lead isn’t what it used to be) but is also in a state that consistently has gone Democratic in recent years. Additionally, Naperville is wealthier than the other cities Brooks lumps it in with: the median household income is just over $100,00o in a city of over 140,000 people . Within these red states, Naperville would be a good example of a place that has thrived with college educated residents with many of them working in professional or high-tech positions either in Naperville or nearby suburbs.

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