Charlottesville’s income inequality crisis

U.Va. students should come together with other Charlottesville residents to address this crisis

Following the terrifying events of Aug. 11 and 12 and the subsequent Concert for Charlottesville, many members of the University community are asking themselves how they can maintain a sense of unity with other Charlottesville residents. While this is not an easy task, it is worth trying to achieve. An essential factor that plays a role in connecting with life beyond Grounds is understanding the socioeconomic conditions which afflict the city. To many University students, Charlottesville is a city steeped in history, with great scenery and incomparable food; what they don’t know is that income inequality in Charlottesville is larger than any other city in Virginia.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute reveals that income inequality is a nationwide problem in the United States — in fact, the income gap between Americans has risen in every state since the 1970s. The study found that “in 24 states, the top 1 percent captured at least half of all income growth between 2009 and 2013, and in 15 of those states [including Virginia] the top 1 percent captured all income growth.” This phenomenon afflicts states all the way to the county level, and often times remains overlooked by affluent community members. In the City of Charlottesville, the average income of the top one percent is $1,604,407, while the average income of the bottom 99 percent is $43,652. This crisis in income disparity has not been seen in Charlottesville for decades, and it helps explain a number of other issues — such as gentrification — the larger Charlottesville community is currently facing. 

The rise of this so-called “1 percent economy,” at both the national and local level, is a result of policies, such as right to work legislation, which continue to favor the wealthy and hurt the poor. Levels of collective bargaining and unionization are at historic lows not seen since before 1928. Moreover, the federal minimum wage buys fewer goods than it did in 1968. The detrimental effects of such policies on low-income households and individuals have become evident, and it is time to demand more from our local leaders. This crisis offers University students and community members an opportunity to come together and support policies which promote broadly-shared prosperity. 

The effects of income inequality are intergenerational; studies have found that, in the United States, the children of affluent parents remain affluent, and the children of low-income parents remain poor. Virginia has an opportunity to demonstrate to the nation new and more equitable policies. As residents of the city with the largest income disparity in Virginia, Charlottesville community members — including University students and faculty — have a responsibility to come together and demand their government to enact the policies our country needs to become a land of opportunity for all, beginning with the Virginia Gubernatorial election on Nov. 7.

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