A new book co-written by a USC Professor Manuel Pastor examines the nation’s increasing income inequality and political polarization.
Equity, Growth and Community: What the Nation Can Learn From America’s Metro Areas (University of California Press, 2015) looks at 11 prospering metropolitan regions in the United States to understand their success.
The book argues that contrary to popular thought — that inequality is necessary for economic growth — inequity actually derails sustainable economic growth over time.
Many economists argue that inequality to some degree is necessary to maintain a healthy economy. After all, inequality puts resources into the hands of entrepreneurs, and we need people to fulfill jobs that require different skill levels. But there is a tipping point at which inequality can breed social conflict and underinvestment in education.
“In the book, we ask the question: How do people come to a realization in which they begin to value equity and growth, prosperity and inclusion in the same dialogue?” explained Pastor, holder of the Turpanjian Chair in Civil Society and Social Change and professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Increasingly people in the U.S. live in communities that are economically segregated.
“It’s actually a real challenge in the U.S. right now because not only do we have political polarization, we have income polarization. Increasingly people in the U.S. live in communities that are economically segregated. Poor people are more likely to live with poor people, and affluent people are more likely to live with affluent people than ever before.”
That also extends to knowledge. People are more likely to tune in to news programs or read publications that match their ideologies.
“As a result, the facts that get repeated are the facts that square with your own point of view. There’s something really important about building knowledge together that leads people to be able to work together,” said Pastor, who wrote the book with Chris Benner of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
What Pastor and Benner found is that where communities created mechanisms for conversations that explore how they could meet the needs of their constituents — businesses, low-income populations, communities of color and others — together they were able to make significant progress.
For instance, a planning group called Envision Utah brought together more than 52,000 Utah residents to produce a statewide vision for 2050. Together they strategically identified approaches for addressing housing and the cost of living, jobs and the economy, education, transportation and community, air quality and other important issues for the state. Similar processes are taking place in cities such as Charlotte, N.C., and Seattle.
“Those conversations become a way for people to understand each other and to understand what the region needs to move ahead over time,” Pastor said.
The book is available for free download at growingtogethermetro.org.