THE CENSUS BUREAU ISSUED a report recently and the accurate way to sum up its conclusion is this: The gap between the richest Americans and the poorest Americans is wider than it's been in years.
The inaccurate way to summarize it is the way you've probably heard it: The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.Even a cursory look at the statistics shows the poorest households in America have seen their incomes go up, not down, in inflation-adjusted dollars - though by a smaller percentage, to be sure, than the wealthiest households.
That's a problem, but it's hardly the same problem.
My first full-time job paid about $12,000 a year. At that time, the gap between my income and that of, say, Rush Limbaugh, probably was not very great. Today, Limbaugh is a multimillionaire and I am not. But that does not mean that I am now poorer than I was I was back in the 1970s - quite the contrary.
The biggest cause of the expanding wage gap is also not what you've been told: conservative, Republican policies favoring the rich.
What is causing the poor to get richer more slowly than the rich? For one, computers and automation have reduced the demand for low-skill workers at a time when the market has been increasingly rewarding educated, technologically skilled workers.
Another important change that many folks would prefer not to dwell on is this: The feminist movement has been successful.
That means that there are more women working and more two-income households than ever before, including many where the wife makes as much or even more than the husband.
Add in this factor as well: Because feminism has changed the psychology of American men, those men today are more likely to look for brides who are closer to their level in terms of education and earning power. Such a combination brings a big boost in household income, especially compared to a home where there is only one wage-earner or where there are two earners at the low end of the economic scale.
So what should Bill Clinton or Bob Dole or whoever is president next year do about the wage gap?
First, he should reject policies designed to knock down a few pegs those who are doing well. Second, he should look for ways to help those who are lagging to help themselves. The most direct path to increased prosperity runs through a good school. And he should seek policies that facilitate social and economic mobility, rather than encourage people to be more comfortable and dependant in their poverty.