In The Washington Post this past Saturday, there was an interesting article on the increasing diversity of sub-urban neighborhoods in the DC area. While I believe the article raises a lot of good points about how increasing Hispanic and Asian populations have led to a diversification of once deeply segregated neighborhoods, I believe it skips around another important kind of stratification: economic.
Many of the neighborhoods may be becoming more racially diverse, but I doubt many have changed dramatically in economic diversity and instead have remained quite consistent. The idea goes back to a conversation I had with a friend about the exposure we have to people in radically different economic conditions. The result was my own realization that I have had few interactions with people who have a substantially different economic standing then I. Since I come from a pretty well-off family, for me this primarily means someone who is struggling to make ends meet.
While I can’t speak for others I would guess that their situation is similar unless they have continually set out to have such experiences. In fact, the more I think about it the more I believe economic differences to be an underrated dividing factor in our society. In many ways the subject is taboo. One does not ask how much a friend or new acquaintance’s family makes. Nonetheless, I would say we feel the divide. The tricky thing about it is that it is so innate to our society. We have built a culture around the idea that a higher level of wealth allows us to separate ourselves from those of lower wealth.
The result is a society that has little understanding of the concerns and issues of those opposite them on the economic ladder. The implications are beginning to show. The recession set off a wave of backlash towards high paid execs, but the fad has now become refined in the Occupy Wall Street campaign. Though it’s tough to follow many in the movement who call for a restructuring of our economic system it may make sense to begin shifting our view of economically stratified neighborhoods to something similar to how we view racially segregated ones.
By: Matt Friedrichs
(Photo by bcmcom under a Creative Commons license)