“We are the 99 percent.” The rallying cry of the Occupy Movement—which began in Zuccotti Park in New York’s financial district in the fall and spread quickly across the country—captured the nation’s attention by trying to draw a clear line between the haves and the have-nots. The protestors’ argument: that wealth among the top 1 percent of Americans has been growing more rapidly than that of the other 99 percent.
The protests changed public and political discourse, with debate over economic justice shaping even the 2012 presidential race. But amid the rhetoric, the calls for reform and the seemingly constant media coverage (Time magazine named Occupy Wall Street the number-one news story of 2011), researchers have been trying to understand why, exactly, the income gap is widening and what effect this is having on American society.
At Williams, three economics professors in particular have been delving into different facets of income inequality, bringing empirical research to bear on what is arguably one of the most pressing issues of these times. Jon Bakija is working to understand who, exactly, constitutes the 1 percent. David Zimmerman is developing a model to compare the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs by determining their impact on children’s future earning potential. And Tara Watson is studying the effects of residential segregation by income as well as how wealth influences who gets married.