In this public lecture Carol Graham will explore the unequally shared American dream. Her study is distinct from other work on inequality because of the metrics that she uses. She uses traditional measures of income inequality as a point of departure and then use well-being data to highlight inequality in beliefs, hope, and aspirations. The high costs of being poor in the US, for example, are more evident in stress, insecurity, and hopelessness than in material deprivation. Inadequate access to health insurance and stable employment play a role, but so do the increasing gaps between the lives of the rich and the poor.
These inequities may lead to more unequal future outcomes, as individuals who do not believe in their futures are unlikely to invest in them. The markers are evident in income, education, and employment data; in differences in mortality, marriage, and incarceration rates; and in other signs of societal fragmentation. They are even reflected in the words that different cohorts use. Those of the wealthy reflect knowledge acquisition and healthy behaviours; those of the poor reflect desperation, short-term outlooks, and patchwork solutions.
According to the author, this is a complex problem, and there are no magic bullets. Graham’s conclusions highlight the important role of well-being metrics in identifying and monitoring trends in life satisfaction and hope, and in desperation and misery. She finds, for example, remarkable levels of optimism among poor blacks but deep desperation (and rising pre-mature mortality rates) among poor whites. She highlights policies – including experimental ones – in which hope is an important channel in improving economic outcomes.
Carol Graham is the Leo Pasvolsky Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and College Park Professor at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. She is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
Graham served as Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at Brookings from 2002-2004. She has also served as a Special Advisor to the Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. She has been a consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, United Nations Development Program, and the Harvard Institute for International Development, helping to design safety net programs in Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe.