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letters | measuring inequality

A little help from the wealthiest among us is not too much to ask

President Obama has called income inequality the “defining challenge of our time.”

Evan Vucci/Associated Press/File 2013

President Obama has called income inequality the “defining challenge of our time.”

Once again, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. Jeff Jacoby writes that “income equality stands only slightly higher now than the average of the past 30 years” (“Income gap? Not many are worried,” Op-ed, Jan. 29). In this case, the use of an average for the past 30 years is misleading, and the net change is the better statistic. In fact, those data also show that in this same period, the top 20 percent of earners saw their share of the nation’s pretax income rise from 43 percent to more than 50 percent. The growth was even greater for the top 1 percent, whose share increased from 9 percent to 15 percent. Surely even Jacoby cannot argue that a growth in share of more than 60 percent can be considered slight.

Given this data, I would agree that it is surprising that more people are not concerned about this very issue.

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It also seems both fair and economically sound to argue that the top 1 percent, or even the top 20 percent, could give back just a little of their increased share to fund initiatives, such as early education, that help those who, through the lottery of birth, just happen to be born with few advantages.

After all, the top 1 percent were also doing just fine 30 years ago, as I recall.

Alan Robins

Needham

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