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Emily Voges
AP English III, period II
January 26, 2015
Individual Freedom and Self-Determination
What do you think needs to be done today to protect individual
freedom and self-determination? What are you doing or will you do
to peacefully advance those rights?
The greatest threat to individual freedom and self determination
in the 21st century is income inequality. Analyses of American income
levels since the 1970s show that income wages have remained flat for
the bottom 50% of Americans (NPR). Income disparities are now as
extreme as they were in the Great Depression. (Tyson). Moreover,
when adjusted for inflation, middle income families headed by college
graduates as well as those by high school graduates have experienced
falling wages since 1990 (NPR). Laura Tyson, former chair of the U.S.
Presidents Council of Economic Advisers, clearly summarizes our dire
"The U.S. is caught in a vicious circle: rising income inequality
breeds more inequality in educational opportunity, which
generates greater inequality in educational attainment. That,
in turn, translates into a waste of human talent, a less
educated workforce, slower economic growth and even greater
income inequality (Tyson).
A crisis this complex needs a multi-pronged attack with policies that at
a minimum support an infusion of funding into public education, as well

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as campaign finance reform and tax reform. Although experts do not
agree on any of these approaches, they do agree that stopping slow
wage growth is fundamental to righting income equality.
With the price of higher education increasing, it has become
harder for many students to attend a university, or even a junior
college. Because of this, many people are unable to attend, which
means that fewer people get the advanced skills necessary for
securing well-paying jobs. The only group [of Americans] that saw
significant gains [in income] was households headed by high-earning
college grads. (NPR). Both technological advances and the
globalization of our economy have limited the number of middleincome jobs available. It is easier to find a low-income job, or a very
high-income job requiring advance education than it is a middleincome paying job (NPR).
The U.S. political system is in many ways controlled by money.
Joseph Stiglitz, a professor at the University of Columbia, believes The
US cannotrecover without policies that directly address inequality
(Finances Online). And Stiglitz is not the only professor with a solution
for the disappearing middle class. Nouriel Roubini, an economics
professor at New York University advocates for higher taxes for the
upper class, and an overall more efficient taxation system. It is the
duty of the United States government to protect its people, and many
[c]ountries far poorer than the U.S. have decided that all young

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people should have access to food, education and health
care(Finance Online).
Many politicians benefit from feel-good rhetoric without
actually doing something meaningful to help those living in poverty
(Finance Online). For example, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth
Warren, became a national celebrity for her candid speeches against
wealth-based interests (Finance Online). There have, however, been
some successes. President Obama has made it easier for students
to obtain grants and loans to tackle the skyrocketing cost of a college
education. (Finance Online).
Ideally, the issue of education should be a unifying topic between
Republicans and Democrats. In order to protect the individual freedoms
of low-income Americans, policies must change. The unfortunate truth
is that poorer children aren't afforded the same educational
opportunities as wealthier ones. (Josh Kraushaar), and this fact has
widened the gap. But what does education reform look like? A wide
variety of ideas have been argued: expanding school choice, increase
teacher pay and teacher quality, improved curriculum, more
accountability in higher education, year round schools, and vocational
training. Sadly, there seems to be little agreement on these ideas,
much less the money or political will to make it happen.
The gap of financial inequality in the United States has become
wider than it was during the Gilded Age, making income and wealth

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inequality are at an all time high (Reich). Emmanuel Saez, an
economics professor at Berkeley has calculated that 95 percent of
all economic gains since the recovery began have gone to the top 1
percent.(Reich). Income and wealth inequality has sadly reached the
point where this problem has become a serious threat to our
economy, our ideal of equal opportunity and our democracy. (Reich).
The widening gap of inequality has made upward mobility increasingly
difficult, thwarting individual growth and self-determination.
In order to help solve the income gap that threatens individual
freedom and self-determination, I plan on advocating for an increase in
public school funding. I can write letters to public officials and vote in
favor of public education spending when I turn in eighteen in a little
less than a year. Often it is those with prosperity who do not see, or do
not care to see, the issues of poverty. As a child who is fortunate
enough to be born into a loving and financially secure family, I believe
that it my civic duty to educate those around me about the issue of
income inequality. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
supposedly said during the Gilded Age, We may have a democracy, or
we may have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we
cannot have both.(Robert Reich). I choose democracy. What will you

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Reich, Robert. What America can do to stop income inequality.
The Christian Science Monitor. 13 May 2014. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.
Kraushaar, Josh. The Proven Way to Fight Income Inequality:
The Atlantic. 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.
Tyson, Laura. The Rising Costs of U.S. Income Inequality. The World
Post-partnership of the Huffington Post and Berggruen Institute. 1
Dec. 2014. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.
40 Years of Income Inequality in America, In Graphs. npr-planet
2 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.
Income Inequality: Views & Solutions From Experts. FinancesOnline.
N.d. Web.
1 Feb. 2015