Rising Awareness in Class Divide, Many Point to OWS: Report

The Pew Research Center has released a report that suggests about 66% of U.S. citizens believe there is a very strong conflict between the rich and the poor today -- a steep increase since 2009. Many are now suggesting that this shift is due to recent grass roots organizing such as Occupy Wall Street, which has drawn attention to economic inequality in the United States.

PEW reports:

The Occupy Wall Street movement no longer occupies Wall Street, but the issue of class conflict has captured a growing share of the national consciousness. A new Pew Research Center survey of 2,048 adults finds that about two-thirds of the public (66%) believes there are "very strong" or "strong" conflicts between the rich and the poor--an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009.

Not only have perceptions of class conflict grown more prevalent; so, too, has the belief that these disputes are intense. According to the new survey, three-in-ten Americans (30%) say there are "very strong conflicts" between poor people and rich people. That is double the proportion that offered a similar view in July 2009 and the largest share expressing this opinion since the question was first asked in 1987.

As a result, in the public's evaluations of divisions within American society, conflicts between rich and poor now rank ahead of three other potential sources of group tension--between immigrants and the native born; between blacks and whites; and between young and old. Back in 2009, more survey respondents said there were strong conflicts between immigrants and the native born than said the same about the rich and the poor.

Read the full report here.

The New York Times reports:

"Income inequality is no longer just for economists," said Richard Morin, a senior editor at Pew Social & Demographic Trends, which conducted the latest survey. "It has moved off the business pages into the front page."

The survey, which polled 2,048 adults from Dec. 6 to 19, found that perception of class conflict surged the most among white people, middle-income earners and independent voters. But it also increased substantially among Republicans, to 55 percent of those polled, up from 38 percent in 2009, even as the party leadership has railed against the concept of class divisions.

The change in perception is the result of a confluence of factors, Mr. Morin said, probably including the Occupy Wall Street movement, which put the issue of undeserved wealth and fairness in American society at the top of the news throughout most of the fall. [...]

The survey attributed the change, in part, to "underlying shifts in the distribution of wealth in American society," citing a finding by the Census Bureau that the share of wealth held by the top 10 percent of the population increased to 56 percent in 2009, from 49 percent in 2005.

Common Dreams

However, the report also suggests that the majority of Americans believe these divides to be temporary and not necessarily inevitable.

As Nona Willis Aronowitz writes at Good:

It's clear that the economic downturn, and pushback in the form of the Occupy movement, have introduced concepts like "wealth gap" and "income inequality" into the popular lexicon. But what's interesting is that we still believe this chasm is temporary. While 46 percent of us believe that most rich people "are wealthy mainly because they know the right people or were born into wealthy families," nearly as many think they've earned it. Forty-three percent say wealthy people became rich "mainly because of their own hard work, ambition or education," results that have stayed virtually the same since 2008. The implication here is that, yeah, there's a clash between rich and poor, but there's still a chance to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, too.

Maybe it's an indication of Americans' undying optimism; maybe it's our utter denial of a solidifying caste system. But these results certainly reveal our ambivalence about how wealth should be distributed in our country--or at least our hesitance to place any blame.

Reuters reports:

The Pew survey further found that 46 percent of Americans believe the rich got their wealth from knowing the right people or being born into the right families, while 43 percent said wealth came from hard work, ambition or education.

Pew, an independent research organization, said its report was based on findings from a telephone survey of 2,048 adults conducted from December 6 to December 19 and which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Income inequality promises to be an issue in this November's U.S. presidential campaign. The Occupy Wall Street movement also has seized upon the issue.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data shows the proportion of overall wealth held by the top 10 percent of the population rose to 56 percent in 2009 from 49 percent in 2005, the report noted.

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