High Five for Sheboygan!

From The Daily by Benjamin Carlson:

SHEBOYGAN, WIS. — In a lakefront town perhaps best known for its jaunty name and mouth-watering smoked bratwursts, there’s a new claim to fame: the most equal city in America.

According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, the city and suburbs of Sheboygan, Wis., have the smallest gap between the rich and poor of any metropolitan area in the United States.

While Occupy Wall Street protesters rail against the runaway wealth of the upper crust, here the top 5 percent take home a much smaller proportion of the region’s wealth (16 percent) than in the U.S. at large (22 percent). To talk hard numbers, the top 20 percent of Sheboygan County makes a median income of $127,440, while the general workforce makes around $50,000.

In fact, the city’s Gini score — a measure of income inequality on a scale from 0 to 100, with bigger wealth gaps measuring higher on the scale — is 39, lying closer to Canada’s figure (32) than that of the U.S. as a whole (47).

Residents say the city reminds them of how America used to be, when there was no such thing as a “middle-class crisis.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    Interesting statistics (and not all that far from my place upbringing), but I guess I’m missing why the ‘high five.’

    Christians should be against injustice, not income inequity. They are not the same. Didn’t see any injustice being overcome to deserve the ‘high five.’

  • DLS

    #1 is correct. I continue to be absolutely miffed that anyone sees “income disparity” as either a ‘justice’ issue or one that is necessarily bad.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    Injustice and inequality go hand in hand.

    All of the latest research shows greater inequality manifests in lesser health, waste of resources that go into gates and policing.

    See works of economists Robert Frank, Samuel Bowles, and others on this.

    And here is a recent TED talk from Richard Wilkinson – shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, even such basic values as trust.

  • Diane

    Naum,

    Thanks. Love this story too.

  • DLS

    “Injustice and inequality go hand in hand

    - No, they don’t. If Bill Gates makes more next year and I make the same, our “wealth disparity” has increased, but I am no worse off.

  • DLS

    They also don’t go “hand in hand” because some people deserve to have more and some people deserve to have less, for a host of reasons. Opposing that truth supports injustice.

  • Fish

    Some people deserve health care and others do not? Some deserve education and others do not? Some deserve to be in poverty and others do not?

    The simple mathematical truth is that upward mobility decreases as concentration of wealth increases. The fewer the number of people with money, the harder it is to be one of them.

    Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it is currently getting, and our system is perfectly designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

    Is being born poor really mean that a person deserves to have less? We say no, but our actions say yes.

  • DLS

    “Some people deserve health care and others do not? Some deserve education and others do not? Some deserve to be in poverty and others do not?”

    - Yes

  • DLS

    “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it is currently getting, and our system is perfectly designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.”

    - I agree with President Obama, who said this week that history shows us that free markets are the best way to wealth and opportunity for the most people.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    @ Fish #7
    You need to differentiate between positive and negative rights. No, everyone does not deserve all of those things, however a good society might do well to attempt to provide for some of them.

    ANY system will be unjust because they are composed of fallen human beings (the source of the injustice), but some systems are better than others in controlling it. The problem with capitalism (as we now have it) is primarily a lack of proper regulations, as well as some poor underlying assumptions which have worked their way in, but IMO, it is still the best system we’ve ever devised.

    It is quite true that everyone isn’t equal in ability, opportunities, or starting point, but that is just a reality. It doesn’t get fixed in other systems, just shifted to other ‘classes’ (blood lines, political power, etc.). Capitalism has shown to deal with this better than other methods. For example, consider Steve Jobs…. he wasn’t born wealthy (he almost wasn’t born at all). Capitalism at least offers class movement mechanisms that are based on ability and effort. (Which encourages development of ability and rewards effort.)

    The problem (in the US at least) is that the laws don’t properly regulate the corruption best as possible (or anywhere near) because the wealthy (and all special interests, to be fair) control the laws through the ‘back-door’ of government, rather than govt policy being based on what is best for society as a whole. That isn’t a flaw in capitalism, but in our government.

    @ Naum #3
    No, they don’t go hand-in-hand, as in a proper causal relationship. Sure, when there is injustice, there will be inequity, but inequity isn’t necessarily a sign of injustice.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    @DLS, @Steve_Wilkinson: you seem to be instinctively dismissive of the latest scholarly research that plainly illustrates how inequality and injustice go hand in hand. As the economists I cited and the TED talk presentation video I linked to show demonstrably and vividly what inequality results in — lesser social mobility, more imprisonment, greater “injustice” (the “war on drugs” for example where rich/white use illegal drugs at higher rates but poorer/minority are more likely to serve prison time and longer sentences… …or even any justice matter — rich person eludes jail for auto accidental death, poor person goes to jail for a long sentence), more resources diverted to gates, policing, etc.…

    You are simply hand waving and not addressing the data and studies. What informs your opinion other than blind, seemingly sensical thoughts on the matter?

    And yes, free markets are cool, but unregulated, non-safety-net markets are like fire that burns out of control. We need only to examine the nation’s economic history where in the Gilded Age, great advancements in GDP were made, but conditions for most were deplorable. Or how modern capitalism was erected on colonization, slavery, and exploitation of subservient nations (and internal population segments).

  • DLS

    If income inequality and injustice go and hand it hand, does everyone in your workplace get paid the same? Do the grad assistants working for the blog author, or for the academics doing the ‘studies’ get paid the same as the supervising professors? If not, why do they support injustice?

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    @DLS, reductio ad absurdum — conflating ‘relative’ with ‘absolute’, not the issue, that everybody is exactly the same, that is ridiculous and not the contention. Rather, it’s that there’s a significant difference where top is 5-10X v. 400-500X, and it’s borne out in health, injustice, etc.… metrics that can be plotted against not only arc of my own (US) nation’s economic history, but other developed countries.

    Seriously, do you believe there is no concern of gravity for a state where the top 1% possess more net wealth than the entire bottom 90% (according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute)? What level of inequality would you deem excessive? Do you not see the danger in 400 individuals having more than half the population? How about a handful of individuals that can purchase a majority of citizens? Does that not manifest into corruption and injustice in government?

    Across 6000 years, 99% of human cultures were pyramid-shaped, and the owner-lords were the ones who oppressed both freedom and competitive markets. Only one generation of human beings did not know “class warfare” – the Post-World War II generation that lived in the miracle that FDR built – a vigorous capitalist-entrepreneurial market and booming middle class… amid the flattest non-pyramidal social order ever seen. The first time ever that self-made millionaires outnumbered the inheritance brats. Sure, some FDR regulations were excessive. But just try to argue with those results. The crux: as the anti-FDR cult grew ever-more vituperative and bitter toward America’s most popular president ever, it tore down everything he built… all three of those vital metrics of US national health have diametrically reversed. And this is good for America… how?

  • DLS

    So, everyone gets paid the same at your workplace or not?

  • DLS

    Also, as for your link to the EPI, note: “The EPI’s President is Lawrence Mishel, a long-time member of Democratic Socialists of America” (source: Wikipedia)

    One might as well cite the Chamber of Commerce in support of the contention that capitalism is good.

  • Fish

    You miss my point, which is that the meritocracy you desire does not exist and further cannot exist in a world where the wealth is locked up in the hands of a very few people.

    If 40% of the people are wealthy, and I am in the other 60%, call my odds of becoming wealthy “X.”

    If 20% of the people are wealthy and I am in the other 80%, my odds of now becoming wealthy are now 2X, all other things like talents and hard work being equal.

    Further, if I give 100 first graders $10,000 each to trade in the market, at the end of a year the results will show a bell shaped curve. Some people are rich simply because statistics dictate it.

    I’d say a good half of the really wealthy people I know were simply lucky. Ability and hard work had nothing to do with it.

    If we made the estate tax 100% and made everyone start from scratch based on their merits alone, we’d have an entirely new ruling class.

    Income inequality will always exist. That, however, does not give the wealthy the right to use government to put in place structures to increase it. For example, taxing capital gains at lower rates than working wages.

  • Corey

    @Naum: Thank you for your well-informed comments and links!

    While this discussion seems to be falling along politically ideological lines, there is a moral component here – ego vs. conscience. Ego being the self-serving agenda of one’s own advancement to the exclusion of others; conscience being the component that elevates ego to the level of compassion for the community at large-the greater good. Conscience, compassion, servitude, justice are what Christ modeled as the Kingdom of God (here and now, not the afterlife). We might want to examine how those with ego, or those who “look out for number one” fit into this Kingdom.

    I’m not contending that wealth or capitalism are intrinsically “bad”, in fact in many ways they can be very good. But we can’t confuse a higher standard of living for a percentage of wealthy western nations with the greater good. As a Christian, I am compelled to follow the ways Jesus interacted with and sacrificed for the under-privileged. Not just as simple charity, but as a servant.

  • Ben

    One good way of handling salaries is something I read about years ago in how Dr. Bronner’s soap company manages payroll. The salaries of the most highly paid positions are capped at 5 times the pay that the lowest paid employees receive. In comparison to how for many companies the ratio is something like 1:100ish, I think this is definitely fair.


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