2014 Midterms: It’s NOT the Economy, Stupid.

If you are at a loss trying to think of the last time a Congressional candidate mentioned their economic policies, Dr. Valerie Rawlston Wilson has reassuring words for you, “There’s nothing wrong with your hearing. There has not really been any discussion of economic inequality of any sort in this election cycle.”

Wilson, the director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, who was speaking at the latest installment of Duke’s Election Series, says in a way this isn’t surprising, but “it’s important to understand how critical this issue is to the average American.”

Just consider these statistics, provided by Professor William (“Sandy”) A. Darity, Jr., the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies and Economics, Duke University; and director of the Duke Consortium on Social Equity:

  • The CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies have an average salary 354 times that of the median American worker.
  • The top 20% of wealthiest Americans hold 90% of the nation’s wealth.
  • When considering a household’s net worth, black and Latino households have 5% of the net worth of the median white household in America.

So while Darity agreed that politicians have paid “negligible attention” to issues of inequality in this campaign, he also said that those policies they have been touting aren’t exactly “imaginative.”

“Whatever policies politicians have pursued are largely stale ones that are indirect,” Darity said, pointing to proposals such as raising the minimum wage as an example. “It’s surprising that despite the ‘Great Recession’  — the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression — that we haven’t had more innovative or dramatic proposals from our candidates.”

But it’s the talk of the nation’s recovery from the Great Recession that Wilson argues has lulled Americans to sleep on the issue. “There’s been a lot celebration over the fact that we’ve gotten beyond a jobless recovery, but what remains is that we continue to have a wageless recovery,” Wilson said.

So what will it take for politicians to start addressing economic inequality? Darity says politicians need to stop saying real economic reform isn’t feasible. Wilson says politicians need to change the narrative and realize a need to invest in America’s future through programs such as rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.

Next week’s session, the last before the November 4 elections, will focus on North Carolina and its key races. Leading the discussion on Duke’s campus will be Mac McCorkle, (L ’84), associate professor of public policy at Duke University and a Democratic political consultant, and Frank Hill (MBA ’83), director of the Institute for Public Trust and former chief of staff to Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC). Joining from Duke in Washington will be Jim McCleskey (T ’83), former director of the North Carolina Governor’s Office for Federal Relations.