Year after year, equal opportunity and fairness are critically important values on the minds of Americans. Surveys find a collective desire for greater economic equality, greater government involvement in employment and opportunity, and a more widespread distribution of wealth, but people don’t think that these values are reflected in the current economy.  For example, a November 2011 poll found that just over half of Americans said that a major problem in the U.S. is that “everyone does not have an equal chance in life.” The same number agreed with this statement in September 2010. More than two of three Democrats and one in two Independents agreed, but more than half of Republicans disagreed. 

 

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There continues to be a more significant disparity in opinions concerning racial equality in the United States. One poll from January 2009, found striking differences of opinion between African Americans and whites about the former’s opportunity to obtain housing and jobs. Eighty-one percent of whites but only 47% of blacks agreed that “Blacks have as good a chance” of getting housing that they can afford. When asked about African Americans’ chances of obtaining a job for which they’re qualified, 83% of whites and a mere 38% of blacks said they had as good a chance as whites.

Government’s role in expanding economic opportunity continues to resonate in the United States. Fifty-four percent believe that the government should “take on a greater role in ensuring that the economy works for the average American” (versus 36% who disagree), and even more, 62%, think that government needs to play a bigger role in creating jobs. In addition, when Americans are asked about factors to blame for poverty, 49% of those polled believe that circumstances beyond one’s control are to blame, and just 32% believe the cause is lack of effort. 

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Wealth distribution and fairness

Opinions regarding wealth distribution have been strong and continue to grow. In the spring of 2000, 56% of Americans polled agreed that there should be a more even distribution of wealth. In the summer of 2006, 60% of respondents agreed that government should “reduce the income differences between the rich and poor,” while only 33% felt that “Government should not concern itself with reducing this income difference.” By the fall of 2011, those in favor of a more even distribution ranged from 60% to 66%. In the latter poll, nearly nine in ten Democrats, two-thirds of Independents, and just over one-third of all Republicans said that the distribution of wealth in the country should be more equitable. 

See the diagrams below for further information of how various groups viewed this issue.

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Even larger numbers of Americans share support for ideas affecting both those at the lower end of the economic spectrum and those at the top. In a November 2011 survey of young people ages 18 – 34, 67% believe that reducing the federal debt by raising taxes on the wealthiest should be either a priority or a top priority. Other studies in the fall of 2011 agreed. One found that two-thirds of Americans objected to tax cuts for corporations and a similar number preferred increasing income taxes on millionaires. Another found that fully 70% of Americans are in favor of “The Buffett Rule,” which would increase taxes on those making over one million dollars per year. That survey also found that 67% believe that the minimum wage should be ten dollars per hour (it’s currently set at $7.25). 

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Economic equality and fairness are concepts supported and embraced by majorities of Americans. Is anyone listening?


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