One Stockton student reflects on the learning sparked from attending the Economic Inequality Initiative Kick-Off last week:
As an extra credit opportunity I attended the Stockton’s Economic Inequality Initiative Kick-Off on Monday, September 28th. The event consisted of a brief welcome from Harvey Kesselman, Stockton’s Interim President; an overview by Oliver Cooke of the Economic Inequality initiative (what is it, who the members are, planned events, EI webpage etc); a short video on Inequality; various power points prepared by the local and regional perspective panel; and the end consisted of answers and questions between the audience and members of the panel. I was very interested in attending this event after seeing it on the extra credit list of events, but at the same time I did not know what to expect. I definitely did not expect to learn as much information as I did during that short hour and a half.
After watching the video- Inequality for All by Robert Reich, I learned that consumer spending contributes to seventy percent of a US economy, and the middle class is the one that is doing this spending therefore, a strong middle class is needed to keep the economy going. Now this might seem like an obvious fact for some but for me, it wasn’t. I had no clue that the middle class played such a big role in our nation’s economy (my brain is filled more with information related to sciences rather than economy). Having said that, our economy isn’t doing all that great because the middle class is disappearing. The gap between the wealthiest people in this country and the rest is enormous. “Wealthiest 400 people in the country today have more money than the bottom 150 million Americans combined”. So the wealthy keep getting wealthier and the poor are becoming even poorer.
While half of the presentation dealt with our economy as a nation, the second half was more local and the main focus was on what is going on in the Atlantic County. Much of the economy and employment here depends on the health of the casinos. Since fewer people are able to come to the area and spend money, it negatively effects the casinos which are then forced to lay off many people, lower wages, benefits etc. When people are laid off from work, the last thing they want to do is spend their money lavishly. This means less money is being put into the casino and tourism. So this process just continues.
Another mini presentation was on the status of women in the Atlantic County. Women comprise a large portion of the poor, which makes them key indicators for economic health. “Atlantic County women earn less than both their state and national counterparts as well as men”, indicating the economic situation in our area is pretty bad. In fact “Atlantic County’s poverty rate for women is 18.5%, which is 1.4 percentage points higher than Atlantic County men, and significantly higher than the rates found in New Jersey and the United States”.
Hearing this really saddened me and all I could think of was how in the world will we ever change this? Some amount of change could be achieved if those in power (holding seats in Senate, House of Representatives) were a greater reflection of those who they are representing. This is what the last mini presentation dealt with, characteristics of New Jersey legislature and the general public. We were shown a graph which included various comparisons (numbers given in percentages). For example, percent of females in legislature as compared to the general population are 30 and 51.7 respectively; foreign born- 2.4 and 21.4 percent; with graduate degree-63.1 and 13.7 percent; democratic- 60 and 32.6 percent; republican 40 and 19.7 percent; unaffiliated- 0 and 47.7 percent respectively. These numbers show that our New Jersey legislative body is dominated by males, isn’t diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and is better educated than a lot of the general public, just to name a few. This becomes a big problem when different issues arise concerning budgets, funding of schools, the environment, senior citizen issues etc. How well can the state government represent the general public? While yes, the government better represents the citizens now than it did, let’s say in the early 1900s, more has to be done to achieve equal and fair representation.
Without a doubt I considered this event worthwhile. Even though it aroused feelings of sadness and defeat after learning about our economy in Atlantic County, I feel like I gained a lot from it. I think the first step to changing something is knowledge and education. Having economic and governmental knowledge I can now make better decisions (for example when it comes to voting in state or national elections). Knowledge is power. On top of that I can share the knowledge that I gained with somebody else. After leaving the event, my boyfriend and I actually had a long discussion about what was covered in the presentation. We shared our views regarding the economic situation in Atlantic County and United States in general. It really made us think more about what goes on in the country and we are considering taking part in this Economic Inequality Initiative here at Stockton.