3 The United States has grown from a small, agricultural economy into an industrial and technological powerhouse. Economic growth has brought riches to some, but not to all. Inequality—the distance between the nation’s rich and its poor—has ebbed and flowed over the nation’s history. (Everett Collection Inc./Dreamstime.com) Background and History 1 Introduction In the United States, we are surrounded by evidence of ­rising inequality, not only in the economic statistics but also in our daily lives. On our streets, shiny Tesla automobiles whisper past homeless people holding cardboard signs. In our sky, ­ billionaires launch themselves into space on private rocket ships while down below, 20-somethings struggle to pay back college loans. The already stark gap between rich and poor in the United States continues to grow, showing little sign of slowing in the future. Countervailing trends are a decrease in income inequality by race and by gender, trends insufficient to offset the growth of income inequality across the population overall. While many affluent nations have seen increases in inequal- ity in recent decades, the increase has been particularly steep in the United States. In 2017, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported that income inequality in the United States was significantly greater than that of the other G7 countries, with the United Kingdom ranked a distant second (Schaeffer 2020). Just over 50 years
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