Understanding wealth in America is best accomplished by a logical navigation through a series of contradictions. Americans worship the 'Almighty Dollar", yet are taught from an early age that 'money is the root of all evil'. In fact, the widening gap between the average income and the median income is a sign that the 'haves' are doing significantly better than the 'have-nots'. The contradictions abound and yet each paradox has a socially valid explanation. Americans view wealth with disdain and envy.In a country where the rags to riches story is repeated endlessly, the common mantra in business is that it takes money to make money, which implies that if you do not possess it now you can not attain it. Wealth frames our status and acts as a measure of individual success. Economic status impacts almost every aspect of life in America. It determines their physical and mental health, their occupation, their neighbors, and their influence on society. The uneven distribution of wealth in America has left a country divided along economic lines and everyone is paying the price.No clear thinking capitalist could ever hope, or want, absolute economic parity among the population. From a functionalist viewpoint, economic strata are a reasonable mechanism to produce the variety of labor needed to drive a diverse modern economy. The initial result of the formation of economic classes is the social and cultural grouping that occurs. People of a like economic class work and socialize together. Neighborhoods are formed based on the cost of housing. Schools are constructed that reflect the economic welfare of the area that they serve. Access to shopping, public services, and transportation are all mirrored by the class they are designed to accommodate. The initial response to economic disparity is a clear construction of boundaries that keep the poor in their neighborhoods and out of the more exclusive properties. In most cases, these social groups function well and serve society by offering most people the basic needs that can be acquired by the limitations of their ability.
Functionalism works well as long as the disparity does not deepen to the point of hopeless resentment. As the wealth and resources get more unevenly distributed, capital is concentrated and the available labor pool becomes more surplus. With an abundance of labor, competition for jobs forces wages and the median income downward. As wealth becomes more out of equilibrium, the capital/labor problem becomes self-feeding and begins to worsen. The wealthy gain more social and political power while the poorest are exploited even more. Eventually the lower economic classes are disenfranchised from education, health care, the justice system, and career opportunities. The poor are locked out of the American dream and are left to gain material wealth outside the socially accepted norms.
Karl Marx viewed the distribution of wealth in terms of a conflict between capital and labor. While Marx foreseen violent revolution against the capitalists and their means of production as a resolution, the reality may be far grimmer. The widening disparity between rich and poor has polarized the workplace and has harshly defined ownership and labor. O'Donnell et al. reported that workers have been disenfranchised from ownership and stated that, " most firms ignore their workforces when it comes to issues of ownership, not even, in many cases, describing them as assets, let alone granting labour as much as a taste of any ownership rights" (113). In a country where anything is possible, it takes more than just money to make money, it takes social status.
The cost of maintaining a poverty class is placed on the middle class, while subsidizing the wealthy. People that are locked in poverty will turn to drugs, crime, and other forms of deviant behavior to narrow the economic gap (Gardner II 139). These transgressions become a burden to the school system, law enforcement, and the justice syste