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Action needed to narrow gap between rich, poor income

The word was out this past week that the boom on Wall Street has been widening the income gap between the poorest and richest families in America, and that West Virginia was among the top 10 states to lead the nation between 1980 and 1990 in that widening process.

The research was conducted by two think tanks: the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. One of the study's authors, Elizabeth McNichol, pointed out that the incomes of the poor and middle class have "fallen or stagnated."

Key business officials, as well as experts in the Underwood administration, need to take a much closer look at methods to improve both the quality and quantity of jobs for West Virginians through economic development projects.

At least three such projects were announced in recent days: Expansion of the Belington Industrial Park and eventually the addition of Energex American Pellets there; FamiliarTales, Inc., a California-based Silicon Valley Internet education technology firm, planning to open a new office in the business incubator at the West Virginia High Technology Consortium in Fairmont, and an Ohio-based telemarketing firm planning to expand in downtown Clarksburg.

It was disquieting to learn that, when adjusted for inflation, incomes for West Virginia's poorest families increased by a mere $150 -- from $9,650 to $9,800 -- while income for the state's richest increased $16,800 -- from $85,370 to $102,000. Quite a difference, indeed! So unless such a wide gap between increases for the richest and poorest was by design, we can see no reason that remedial steps should not be initiated immediately by those in position to do so.

McNichol has attributed the widening gap to Wall Street's long-running bull market, which favors wealthy investors; to lower paying service jobs replacing manufacturing jobs, and to the largely stagnant minimum wage. In only three of the 50 states did the income gap narrow, in fact -- Alaska, Louisiana and Tennessee.

This is certainly not to degrade in any way all those hard-working Americans who have enjoyed a level of success due to their own merit. But in the "land of the free," every effort must be made to provide equal opportunity to the less privileged in our society.

The time to correct the problem is right now. Because, left unchecked, the situation will destroy a lot of the impetus for improvement for which we have striven.

Robert F. Stealey

Telegram Editorial Page chairman

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