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Actually, America's Inequality Is Far Worse Than Egypt's and Tunisia's

Inequality was one of the main contributors to the protests sweeping the Arab states. What's in store for America, which is more unequal than Egypt?

What's behind the protests in Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt—and the growing unrest in several other Arab states? A whole host of things, actually, but one of the most glaring seems to be the shocking, ever-increasing disparity between the wealthy and the needy of those nations.

"They all want the same," Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the Middle East says of the demonstrators. "They're all protesting about growing inequalities, they're all protesting against growing nepotism. The top of the pyramid was getting richer and richer." It makes perfect sense: The rich can only exploit the poor to get richer for so long before the underclass revolts. It may take centuries, but it's bound to give eventually.

That inevitability, it turns out, should be a cause for concern for Americans. Because despite our unprecedented prosperity, the inequality in the United States is not only drastically worse than Egypt's, it's also worse than Tunisia's and Yemen's as well.

The "Gini Coefficient" is a measure of distribution inequality; the lower the number, the more equal the data being measured.

According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. is ranked as the 42nd most unequal country in the world, with a Gini Coefficient of 45.

In contrast:

  • Tunisia is ranked the 62nd most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of 40.
  • Yemen is ranked 76th most unequal, with a Gini Coefficient of 37.7.
  • And Egypt is ranked as the 90th most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of around 34.4.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, "the gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest fifths of the country more than tripled between 1979 and 2007." Income inequality in the United States is now the worst it's been in nearly 100 years, and worse still is that it it's getting more pronounced all the time.

It's important to keep in mind that, on a whole host of other metrics—average income, poverty rate, infant mortality rate, etc.—America is far better off than places like Egypt and Yemen. That's great, of course, but it ultimately does little to negate the fact that the rich are pulling away from the poor in our country at unprecedented rates. If past is prologue, don't be surprised when the poor stop taking it.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Javi S&M

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