Thomas Sowell

Income inequality has long been one of the liberals' favorite issues. So there is nothing surprising about its being pushed hard this election year.

If nothing else, it is a much-needed distraction from the disasters of ObamaCare and the various IRS, Benghazi and other Obama administration scandals.

Like so many other favorite liberal issues, income inequality is seldom discussed in terms of the actual consequences of liberal policies. When you turn from eloquent rhetoric to hard facts, the hardest of those facts is that income inequality has actually increased during five years of Barack Obama's leftist policies.

This is not as surprising as some might think. When you make it unnecessary for many people to work, fewer people work. Unprecedented numbers of Americans are on the food stamp program. Unprecedented numbers are also living off government "disability" payments.

There is a sweeping array of other government subsidies, whether in money or in kind, which together allow many people to receive greater benefits than they could earn by working at low-skilled jobs. Is it surprising that the labor force participation rate is lower than it has been in decades?

In short, when people don't have to earn incomes, they are less likely to earn incomes -- or, at least, to earn incomes in legal and visible ways that could threaten their government benefits.

Most of the households in the bottom 20 percent of income earners have nobody working. There are more heads of household working full-time and year-round in the top 5 percent than in the bottom 20 percent.

What this means statistically is that liberals can throw around numbers on how many people are living in "poverty" -- defined in terms of income received, not in terms of goods and services provided by the government.

Most Americans living in "poverty" have air conditioning, a motor vehicle and other amenities, including more living space than the average person in Europe -- not the average poor person in Europe, the average person.

"Poverty" is in the eye of the statisticians -- more specifically, the government statisticians who define what constitutes "poverty," and who are unlikely to define it in ways that might jeopardize the massive welfare state that they are part of.

In terms of income statistics that produce liberal outcries about "disparities" and "inequities," millions of people who don't have to earn incomes typically don't.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate