Haves and have-nots

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and nowhere is that more evident than in Los Angeles. From Rodeo Drive to Skid Row, the difference is striking. Behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, there is another much less glamorous reality – hunger, homelessness, and working families struggling to make ends meet. It’s not just in LA; this is the reality all over America.

Income inequality in the United States is considerably higher than most other developed countries, and is even higher than some developing nations like Russia and India. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012, the top 1 percent of Americans took home nearly 20 percent of the nation’s income and the top 10 percent took home more than 50 percent, leaving the share for the bottom 90 percent of Americans below 50 percent for the first time ever. Let’s say you’re at a picnic with nine other people and when it comes time to slice the pie for dessert, one person gets half of the pie to themselves and the other nine people must split the other half, leaving them with barely anything. How is that fair?

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The growing trend of economic inequality in the United States is not only unfair, but has detrimental consequences for our country as a whole. The ability to make a better life for our children – the essence of the American Dream – is now seriously at risk. There are more than 16 million children in the United States living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level ($23,550 a year for a family of four). Those 16 million children make up 22% of all children in the United States, meaning that more than one in five children in our country lives in poverty.

To make things worse, the likelihood that these children will climb out of poverty is extremely low. It is harder for a child in America to climb out of poverty than it is for children in most other wealthy nations, including Canada, Denmark, France, and Germany. In fact, in Charlotte, North Carolina, a child raised in the bottom fifth of income earners only has a 4.4 percent chance of rising to the top fifth.

In all of my years in public service, I have yet to encounter someone who has been more dedicated to improving the lives of our children than Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPolitics and the perils of protectionism EXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Clinton’s 9 most likely VP picks MORE. I have known Hillary Clinton for more than two decades, and I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand her passion toward her plans to ensure a brighter future for every child in America. To tackle an economy that has left too many children in poverty, Hillary Clinton has supported progressive tax policies, worked to increase the minimum wage, and voted to extend emergency unemployment benefits.

As the former Mayor of Los Angeles and chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Poverty, Work, and Opportunity Task Force, I know that while all those policies are crucial to solving the problem of income inequality, they are only part of the equation. We not only have to work to close the income gap, we have to close the achievement gap between the rich and the poor that keeps poor children stuck in the cycle of poverty.  Hillary Clinton has worked to close the achievement gap between rich and poor children for the better part of her professional life. Upon graduating from Yale Law School, Clinton went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, the country’s leading child advocacy organization. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Arkansas and cofounded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and led a massive effort to reform Arkansas’s education system.

As First Lady of the United States, Clinton worked to expand Head Start and help create Early Head Start, and helped implement the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (“SCHIP”). As a senator, Clinton strengthened SCHIP, worked to expand access to preschool education programs for children in poverty, and supported numerous job training programs. Today, Hillary Clinton is continuing her work with the launch of “Too Small to Fail” – an initiative aimed at closing the word gap that results when low-income children enter school with substantially smaller vocabularies than their classmates, hindering their long-term success.

I was one of those kids who could have gotten stuck in the cycle of income inequality.  But for me, public education was the great equalizer and I believe that we must close the achievement gap if we are to begin to make any progress towards greater equality and opportunity for all. This is why, as mayor, I chose to make education a priority.

Hillary Clinton has stated that “if you want to know the moral and economic health of a community, look at the children." When I look at our children today, I see a fragile society with exorbitantly high rates of childhood poverty and a widening educational gap between the rich and the poor. We have to do more to combat income inequality, if for no other reason, than for the future of our children. Hillary Clinton knows that changing the course of income inequality in America is a long-term fight – one she has steadfastly fought for her entire adult life, and one that she will continue to fight until everyone in our country is given the opportunity to pursue the American Dream.

Villaraigosa seved as mayor of Los Angeles from 2005 to 2013.

 

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