The Mis-measure of Inequality

Growing income inequality may be one of the most important economic issues of the next several decades. Despite a growing concentration of income and wealth, however, it seems that no one is willing to actually call themselves or anyone else rich.

Take this story about the magnificent Stephen Curry from EPSN’s Grantland, for example. Stephen, the son of NBA star Dell Curry, has his childhood described in this way,

…the house his parents built in 1996, the year Steph turned 8, on a 16-acre plot a few minutes’ drive from the center of Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s a big house, six bedrooms. Steph’s father, Dell, played shooting guard for the local NBA franchise, the Hornets, and a couple of years earlier he’d won the league’s sixth man of the year award; the Currys saw this as their dream home, designed it themselves, had cabinets flown in from Africa… still, it’s possible to imagine the Currys’ life there, the upper-middle-class childhoods resplendently sprawling over the place.

Upper-middle class?  Seriously?

By the time Curry’s family built the house in 1996, Dell had already earned over $7 million from a basketball career that would eventually make him nearly $20 million in salary alone.

The median worker in the US earned $272,533 over the 14 years during which Stephen’s dad played in the NBA, or roughly 1/72nd of what Dell Curry earned.

Stephen had an extremely privileged childhood that 99.9% of kids can’t even dream of. Yes, he was, say it together, rich. This doesn’t take away from the fact that he used the advantages of his birth to become, perhaps, the best player in the NBA.

But Stephen Curry, upper-middle class kid? Please…

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4 thoughts on “The Mis-measure of Inequality

  1. nrgood17

    I’ve read about this too. A majority of Americans claim to be middle class, I believe this can be solely ascribed to American culture. No one wants to be described as poor, and likewise in America people seem to not want to claim to be rich, so being middle class is the obvious designation. I’ve heard many people also describe this phenomena as a positive, for example only in America can everyone be considered middle class. When it comes to income inequality this designation can be troubling, however, numbers don’t lie, as you demonstrated above. One thing is for certain, many “middle class Americans” will be affected by any attempts to remedy income inequality.

    Reply
  2. kacoff17

    I also read an article similar to this one, in which is states that a majority of Americans would describe themselves as middle-class. Yet when we look at the definition of the middle-class, the number of people who actually are in this class are shrinking due to income inequality. However, the middle class has been decreasing for quite sometime now. My question is, if the middle-class is shrinking, where have they gone? My guess is before the recession, in around 2000, most people that were leaving the middle-class were becoming richer and perhaps after the recession, people were stepping down to the lower classes.

    Reply
  3. srgrif16

    This really is a curiously American phenomenon. I’ve seen some studies in which well over 90% of Americans self-identify as “middle class.” This really begs the question of how wide we, as a society, believe the spread between the lower bound and the upper bound of the middle class is. In a way, it is a good sign that many wealthy individuals display a certain level of humility, and that many poor individuals display a similar level of optimism, in refusing to define themselves as separate from the middle class. However, this example makes Mitt Romney’s statement during the 2012 election that households making up to $250,000 are middle class seem downright reasonable.
    -Sean Griffin

    Reply
  4. tpercy31

    I believe that this obsession that Americans have with calling themselves middle class, is due to popular media portrayals of the wealthy and the poor. In television and in the movies, the entertainment world today has shaped a popular opinion of the rich and poor. They attach certain characteristics and levels of wealth to words and the people believe them. Most people watching entertainment, sees themselves as neither rich nor poor, in the popular sense. most of these people assume that they fall in between in the commonly referred to “middle class.”

    Reply

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