Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich Addresses Income Inequality

By Reuben Schafir

Catlin Gabel School, Catlin Speak

Former Secretary of Labor to President Bill Clinton, Robert Reich, delivered a lecture at Temple Beth Israel on Sept. 28, speaking on income inequality in the United States, the same topic as his 2013 documentary Inequality for All.

Reich, considered a giant in his field (despite his 4’11” stature) served as President Clinton’s Secretary of labor from 1993 to 1997 and is currently a professor at University of California, Berkeley. His charming humor and years of expertise came together in an hour and a half long lecture including a Q&A session, covering topics from medicare, the Clinton’s, population, education and minimum wage.

When addressing the medicare system, Reich named rising costs of medical care as a key problem.

“We’ve got 77 million bodies that are going to be decaying simultaneously” stated Reich in a common moment of humor. Naming the baby boomer generation as the cause of this sudden increase in the elderly.

Reich, born in 1946, himself a member of the baby boomer generation, asked for anyone in the room born between 1945 and 1964 to raise their hand – his point to show the roughly 70 percent of the audience whom this information is relevant for.

Reich then switched to the topic of education.

“There are few callings more noble than being a teacher,” Reich said, emphasizing the importance of education.  He explained that “if we are turning our public schools into test taking factories all our kids will be prepared to do is take tests. They will not be prepared to think.” Reich seems to point at a lack of education as a reason for inequality. He expressed a need for change in the countries educational system, stating that 40 percent of funding for schools comes from local income tax. However, when neighborhoods go broke, income levels fall, which leads to poor schools due to lack of funding which eventually makes it harder for students to get a job. This begins the cycle for poverty.

Arriving in Portland after a spending the day in Seattle arguing for a 15 dollar minimum wage, Reich also touched on minimum wage nationwide, saying, “I think that we could have a national minimum wage that would be about 12 dollars per hour, and linked to inflation.” Reich argues that a higher minimum wage will create a healthier economy, remarking that “it’s important for us to embark upon these reforms.”

Given the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign, the inevitable topic of Hillary Clinton was brought up. In an artful and hilarious dodge of the real question, Reich went on to tell of his college days, when he dated Clinton.

“I dated Hillary.. No I did! But I forgot all about that. In 2008, in the 2008 election a reporter from the New York times called me and said he had come across a whole collection of her letters from when she was an undergraduate at Wellesley and she mentions that she had a date with you. Is there anything you can tell us about the date that might shed light on how she might perform as a President? Know I’ve had some stupid questions…Now I didn’t want to be disrespectful and I didn’t want to jeopardize her chances” Reich continues, “So I said well we went to a movie and all I can tell you is she wanted an inordinate amount of popcorn.”

Ultimately, Reich’s lecture revolved around a single point; Should we worry about a rising gap in income between the rich and the poor in the United States? Reich dropped an astounding statistic on this subject, putting his whole lecture in context.

“Right now the 400 wealthiest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million.”

Ironically enough, Reich’s net worth is an estimated at roughly 4 million dollars.

Reich’s blog about American economics, which includes a trailer for his movie Ineaquality for All, can be found here, http://robertreich.org/.

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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