Class Conflict: An Academic Question

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

In trying to paint a picture of burgeoning class conflicts on American campuses, academics and their off-campus enablers promise evidence but mostly offer atmospherics. “According to a growing body of scholarly literature, class stratification on college campuses may well be an immutable barrier that increasingly divides affluent students from their less well-off classmates, threatening the long-cherished ideal that a college education serves as the great equalizer of society,” Sam Fulwood III writes in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

Fulwood is an analyst at the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress. Diverse is a special supplement of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“There’s nothing new to those of us on the faculty of sociology departments about how class differences impact our students,” Princeton’s Thomas J. Espenshade states. “We’ve been studying this for years, and it’s part of the sociologists DNA to be concerned about these issues even when the larger society hasn’t paid as much attention to it as we consistently have.”

Espenshade and Alexandria Wilson Radford surveyed 9,000 students of varying backgrounds to find that they “do not mix as well as one might expect.” Meanwhile, real-world research shows that American class distinctions are a bit more illusory.

An actual economist named Diana Furchtgott-Roth looked at income inequality in America and pretty much found it to be a myth. “Although cries for redistribution by government echo in the press and among some politicians, by some measures economic inequality is no greater now than it was in the 1980s,” Furchtgott-Roth writes. “To appraise economic inequality, it makes more sense to look at spending, not cash income.”

“Government data on individual spending patterns show that the ratio of spending between the top and bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, measured on a per-person basis, was essentially unchanged between 1985 and 2010. In 1985 people in the top quintile had spending that was 2.5 times that of people in the bottom quintile. By 2010, this ratio was 2.4.”

“This metric suggests that economic inequality has diminished slightly, rather than increased.”  Furchtgott-Roth is an economist at the Manhattan Institute.

“Many studies that have found growing inequality of income use pretax income and omit transfers, such as food stamps, etc.,” Furchtgott-Roth notes. “Measuring income on an after-tax basis and including transfers reduces real and perceived inequality.” Furchtgott-Roth was the chief economist at the U. S. Department of Labor from 2003 to 2005.

“In addition, many studies do not take into account changes in the composition of households over the past 30 years,” Furchtgott-Roth observes. “These changes include more two-earner couples at the top of the income scale and more one-person households at the bottom.” She also served as chief of staff on the President’s Council of Economic Advisors from 2001 to 2002.

“Growth in inequality in America is illusory, a mirage,” she concludes. “Economic studies and commentators that find increased inequality are celebrated, those that find none are ignored. Cursory reviews reveal no increase in real inequality, merely changes in demographic patterns such as increases in single-head-of-household families or an aging population.”

“Much ‘inequality’ in the United States is a problem in search of reality, caused by writers who know a certain storyline will sell to an audience anxiously looking for additional reasons to have the government inject itself even more into the lives of ordinary Americans.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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