Poll Finds Class Tension on Steep Rise, Especially among Young Adults

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January 12, 2012; Source: IndyStar | In a survey of 2,048 adults released today, the Pew Research Center has found that two-thirds of respondents said they felt that there were “strong” or “very strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the percentage that feels this way grew 19 percent since July 2009. This, Pew said, makes class a greater flashpoint in the public than race or nationality. The sub-group that felt the tension most acutely were young adults aged 18-34, but even among those 51 and older, a full 55 percent feel that class tensions are high (as compared to 36 percent of the 51+ cohort in 2009). In terms of the younger respondents, we would point you to another recent newswire, “Eating Our Young,” which addresses the enormously growing gap in wealth between younger and older Americans.

As to reasons for the shift, the report states:

These changes in attitudes over a relatively short period of time may reflect the income and wealth inequality message conveyed by Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country in late 2011 that led to a spike in media attention to the topic. But the changes may also reflect a growing public awareness of underlying shifts in the distribution of wealth in American society. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, the proportion of overall wealth—a measure that includes home equity, stocks and bonds and the value of jewelry, furniture and other possessions—held by the top 10% of the population increased from 49% in 2005 to 56% in 2009.

The belief that intense class conflicts exist has grown fairly evenly across all income groups since 2009, rising by 17 percentage points among those earning less than $20,000 and by 18 points among those making $75,000 or more. This belief runs still higher among those earning between $40,000 and $75,000—71 percent say there are “strong” or “very strong” class conflicts, an increase of 24 points from 2009.

There is also a longstanding racial divide on these questions, but that seems to be narrowing. There is now a 9-percentage point difference between blacks and whites that say there are strong conflicts between rich and poor  (74 percent for blacks versus 65 percent for whites), where in 2009 the difference was 23 percentage points (66 percent versus 43 percent). Both demographics showed an increase in the perception of tension, but the increase was far larger among whites.

There is a good deal more to be gleaned from this report, which we recommend to you. —Ruth McCambridge