Stay focused on Opportunity Equality, not Income Inequality

Mar 11, 2011, 17:18 ET from Webster University -- Saint Louis Campus

ST. LOUIS, March 11, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is a commentary written by Richard Ryffel, Chairman of the Board, Beyond Housing and Benjamin Akande, Dean, George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology, Webster University:

Recently, the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have been the stage for a lively debate about income inequality.  Thomas Garrett from the St. Louis Federal Reserve spurred the conversation with his paper entitled, "U.S. Income Inequality:  It's Not So Bad," with his perspective rebutted by Professor Mark Rank from Washington University.  Garrett argued, simplified here, that the rich getting richer does not make the poor poorer and that "if I make more than you, it's not like I've taken from you."  Rank countered with, again simplified here, that concentrating enormous wealth in a few hands runs the risk of "distorting democracy" by allowing one's economic power to tilt the financial agenda in their favor. 

The truth is poverty robs people of opportunity - the opportunity to get an education, to maintain one's health, to spend time with family, to live in a safe environment and to secure one's future in old age. Today, 14.3 percent of all Americans live below the poverty level. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that number is even higher in Missouri. If families never move out of poverty, their lives will always be a daily struggle.  

Yes, there is help. Not-for-profits, like St. Louis' Beyond Housing, work daily to provide safe, clean, affordable housing, access to healthy food and even integrated social services that enhance and support education, community health and economic development.  We are not the only ones with the goal of helping families become economically stronger.  However, without help from the community as a whole, none of us will ever succeed.

The work of not-for-profits, those on the front line of fighting poverty, is predicated in no small part by  the support of those on the top of the income ladder.  Financial success often drives charitable giving.  Some write a check to right the wrong of the situation, others support missions to defer tax liabilities, and some, like our partners (Save-A-Lot Food Stores, Midwest Bank Centre and E.M. Harris), know that providing opportunity for those less fortunate just makes good business sense.

Everyone should have the opportunity to reach the highest economic heights.  We neither begrudge the wealthy, nor do we believe they should have the playing field tilted in their favor.  But creating opportunities for families struggling today to have a successful life for themselves and their children can only be done when other, more successful, people lend a hand.  A rising tide lifts all boats and in the end, it ensures that we all have what we need for life's journey.

SOURCE Webster University -- Saint Louis Campus