With his now infamous attempt at a $10,000 wager, Romney revealed a glimpse into his personal socioeconomic context. For most of us without a gambling problem, a friendly, off the cuff bet reflects our comfort level with the amount of our money we are willing to lose. Romney’s comfort level is much higher than that of the vast majority of people in the world. The fact raises an interesting question regarding the challenges facing a person tasked with governing a population whose daily life is quite far removed with her/his own.
He grew up in an affluent household and thus does not have a memory of anything other than privilege; this may make it difficult for Romney to empathize with and visualize the lives of the average person. And so it is for so many of the wealthy in the U.S. Pockets of diamond studded communities, walled off from the rest of the populace, are experiencing a different reality than most of the nation.
It can be easy for people who share the type of wealth that Romney enjoys to be insulated from the rest of the population. According to the Congressional Budget Office, for the period between the years 1979 and 2007, the income disparity between the classes in the United States has grown dramatically. Consider, for example, that during those 28 years, the income for the wealthiest 1 percent of U.S. households rose by 275 percent. In contrast, the individuals in the lowest earning 20 percent of the population, saw their income rise by only 18 percent.
The ramifications of this concentration of wealth are deep and far flung. A sternly stratified society suffers from the simple lack of proximity of members from different classes. Without regular interchange in the public sphere, people of different classes are less likely to understand and perhaps empathize with the lives of other U.S. citizens. Consider, for example, gated communities as a physical manifestation of this type of insulation and seclusion. Now consider the children of these gated communities.
Recently, the New York Times reported on the trend that requires our immediate attention. The pathway to the “American Dream” has, for generations, been education. From the mid point of the last century, the concerns of Latino education activists have often been focused on the disparity of performance and achievement between Caucasian and Latino children. Yet, research is now suggesting that the most important determinant affecting academic and consequently overall success for the children of this nation is the socioeconomic class of their parents. Sobering thought for a nation that has long prided itself on being the land of opportunity.
From what I have read, race is still a factor with regards to life in the U.S. and there are multiple, complicated factors that influence socio-cultural-economic success in the country. Education as a pathway to success cannot be compromised lest we solidify the ever growing walls that separate what should be a more economically fluid society. Otherwise, we risk: a house divided that will not stand.