It is widely assumed that Americans care little about income inequality, believe opportunities abound, admire the rich, and dislike redistributive policies. Leslie McCall contends that such assumptions are based on both incomplete survey data and economic conditions of the past and not present. In fact, Americans have desired less inequality for decades, and McCall's book explains why. Americans become most concerned about inequality in times of inequitable growth, when they view the rich as prospering while opportunities for good jobs, fair pay and high quality education are restricted for everyone else. As a result, they favor policies to expand opportunity and redistribute earnings in the workplace, reducing inequality in the market rather than redistributing income after the fact with tax and spending policies. This book resolves the paradox of how Americans can express little enthusiasm for welfare state policies and still yearn for a more equitable society, and forwards a new model of preferences about income inequality rooted in labor market opportunities rather than welfare state policies.
Leslie McCall is Professor of Sociology and Political Science, as well as Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, at Northwestern University. She is the author of Complex Inequality: Gender, Class, and Race in the New Economy (2001). Her work on economic inequality has been published in the American Sociological Review, Demography, Signs, the Annual Review of Sociology, Perspectives on Politics, Economic Geography and the Socio-Economic Review, as well as in several edited volumes.
Introduction: thinking about income inequality; 1. Beyond the opposition between opportunity and inequality: theories of American beliefs about inequality from the nineteenth century to the present; 2. The emergence of a new social issue: media coverage of economic inequality and social class in the United States, 1980-2010; 3. American beliefs about income inequality: what, when, who, and why; 4. Why do Americans care about income inequality? The role of opportunity; 5. Americans' social policy preferences in the era of rising inequality; Conclusion: a new era of beliefs about inequality.