• Economic Inequality

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    America has long been heralded as the “land of opportunity,” but consider the following:

    • The average student loan debt for the class of 2012 was $29,400;[1] this doesn’t account for any debt accrued in graduate school.

    • Between 1947 and 1972, the average hourly wage, adjusted for inflation, rose 76%. Since 1972, by contrast, the average hourly wage has risen only 4%.[2]

    • In 2011 the poverty rate for female-headed families with children was 40.9%.[3]

    • In 2009, CEOs of major U.S. corporations averaged 263 times the average compensation of American workers.[4]

    • Between 1979 and 2007, wages for the top 1% rose almost 10 times as fast as those for the bottom 90%: 156.2% versus 16.7%.[5]

    • “[T]he two years in the last hundred that mark the apogees of inequality – when the richest 1% received a record 23.5% of total income – were 1928 and 2007.”[6]

    • An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study found that almost 884,000 excess deaths per year in the United States could be attributed to high levels of income inequality.[7]

    Some degree of economic inequality occurs naturally in a free and open society, but a vibrant democracy experiencing these dramatic trends ought to be asking tough questions:

    • How did the extreme inequality we find today happen?

    • What are the implications of such dramatic economic inequality?

    • How much inequality is too much?

    • If these trends undermine the integrity of our democracy, then what can we do?

    Our democracy deserves answers to these questions.

    About the Initiative

    We believe that those of us in higher education have the responsibility to engage our students and communities in assembling the knowledge and skills to effectively enact change related to the complex issue of growing economic inequality.

    In February 2014, AASCU's American Democracy Project (ADP) joined with our community college colleagues in The Democracy Commitment (TDC) and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich at San Francisco State University (Calif.) for a live webcast about his documentary film, Inequality for All. This event served as the inspiration for the first joint ADP/TDC national initiative, an effort centered on economic inequality and co-led by ADP's Keene State College (N.H.) and TDC's Mount Wachusett Community College (Mass.).

      Inequality for All image 

    Click here to view the trailer 

    A cohort of two- and four-year ADP and TDC member institutions joined our lead institutions in a three-year initiative to understand the impact of economic inequality on our democracy. The goal of this initiative is to help students think about and take action to confront the complex causes of growing economic inequality.

    This initiative is developing, implementing and documenting innovative, interactive curricula and experiential learning modules that can be adapted across our campuses and communities. Participating institutions are working together to study the relationship between public policy, economic inequality, economic opportunity and social mobility to prepare undergraduates for lives of informed civic engagement.

    The full call for participation can be found here.

    Economic Inequality Campus Mini-Grants

    We offer campus mini-grants of up to $1,000 per ADP/TDC Economic Inequality participating campus for the purpose of advancing the work of this initiative on these campuses. Participating campuses interested in applying for the mini-grants must complete the forms below:  

    More than 12 mini-grants have been given to campuses to foster programming from regional student summits to campus workshops, student survey instrument development, speakers, course development, and a poverty simulation.  

    ADP Participating Campuses

    • Buffalo State (SUNY) 
    • California State University, Chico
    • California State University, Monterey Bay
    • Cleveland State University (Ohio)
    • Dalton State College (Ga.)
    • Ferris State University (Mich.)
    • Indiana University Northwest
    • Missouri State University
    • Northeastern Illinois University
    • Northern Kentucky University
    • Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
    • Salisbury University (Md.)
    • Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
    • St. Cloud State University (Minn.)
    • SUNY Cortland
    • Texas A&M University-Central Texas 
    • University of Houston Downtown (Texas)
    • Weber State University (Utah)
    • Western Carolina University (N.C.)
    • Winona State University (Minn.)
    • Wright State University (Ohio)


    1. http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/04/pf/college/student-loan-debt/  
    2. http://inequality.org/income-inequality/
    3. http://www.epi.org/publication/female-headed-families-children-poverty/  
    4. http://www.stateofworkingamerica.org/fact-sheets/inequality-facts/ 
    5. Reich, R. (2013). Aftershock. New York: Vintage Books.
    6. http://inequality.org/inequality-health/