The Great Equalizers
De Blasio has it wrong. The rich aren’t the problem in the “inequality crisis.”


Rich Lowry

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio gave a kind of St. Crispin’s Day speech for progressives at his New Year’s Day inauguration ceremony. He evoked a city ravaged by a crisis of inequality. What Rudy Giuliani was to out-of-control crime, de Blasio wants to be to rampant inequality — its scourge and vanquisher. 

Yet for all his impassioned egalitarianism, the new mayor neglected the great equalizers, those qualities that are the bedrock of success in America and the key to mobility. Like so many others on the left, de Blasio is loath to detract from the false but ideologically congenial narrative of the rich dispossessing the poor. So he gives short shrift to the basics of marriage, education, and work — all grounded in an ethic of personal responsibility — that make it possible for people to escape and avoid poverty.


Anyone can be a victim of bad luck — especially in a weak economy — but the essential formula for eluding poverty isn’t complicated: Graduate from high school, get a job, and get married before having children. Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution writes in the journal National Affairs, “Census data show that if all Americans finished high school, worked full time at whatever job they then qualified for with their education, and married at the same rate as Americans had married in 1970, the poverty rate would be cut by around 70 percent — without additional government spending.”

The breakdown of marriage, in particular, drives impoverishment. The poverty rate is about six times higher for single-parent families than two-parent families. About 70 percent of all poor families with children are single-parent families. According to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, if single mothers were to marry the fathers of the children, about two-thirds of them would no longer be poor, in a stupendously effective anti-poverty program.

Then there’s education. A college degree is a rocket booster on income mobility. Among children from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, 84 percent of those who go on to get a college degree will escape the bottom fifth, and 19 percent will make it all the way to the top fifth, according to Haskins. Among kids from those families who don’t get a degree, 45 percent will remain in the bottom fifth. (In his speech, de Blasio did cite his highest-profile educational initiative, more funding for pre-K education.)

And, finally, there’s work. “Even in good economic times,” Robert Rector writes, “the average poor family with children has only 800 hours of total parental work per year — the equivalent of one adult working 16 hours per week. The math is fairly simple: Little work equals little income, which equals poverty. If the amount of work performed by poor families with children was increased to the equivalent of one adult working full time throughout the year, the poverty rate among these families would drop by two-thirds.”

The bottom line is success ultimately depends on habits that money can’t buy. In a book-length study of the influence of parental income on the prospects of children, Susan Mayer found a complicated picture. She writes that “parental characteristics that employers value and are willing to pay for, such as skills, diligence, honesty, good health, and reliability, also improve children’s life chances, independent of their effect on parents’ income. Children of parents with these attributes do well even when their parents do not have much income.”

This is the rub — and the dishonesty at the center of de Blasio’s vision. The rich aren’t causing anyone to have children out of wedlock, or drop out of high school, or stop looking for a job. They aren’t undermining discipline or eroding industriousness. They have nothing to do with failing schools or dangerous neighborhoods. Even if you believe their incomes are too high and their taxes too low, they don’t make it harder for anyone else to get ahead.

In other words, they don’t cut anyone off from the foundations of success that are the country’s great equalizers.

—  Rich Lowry is the editor of  National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]. © 2013 King Features Syndicate

De Blasio Inauguration
Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the new mayor of New York City on January 1, and while he delivered an energetic speech about his campaign promises, the tone of some of the other speakers drew rebukes from political observers and even some de Blasio supporters. Here’s a look.
Former President Bill Clinton was on hand to deliver the oath of office to de Blasio, one of several Democratic party luminaries in attendance, including Hillary Clinton, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In his speech de Blasio asserted: “We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York.”
Washington Post writer Melinda Henneberger described the ceremony as “not just a progressive jamboree but a 90-minute pummeling of outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg.”
The New York Times observed that the inauguration was filled with “an unusually open airing of the city’s racial and class tensions” and “fierce denunciations of luxury condominiums and trickle-down economics.”
Singer Harry Belafonte denounced what he called the “Dickensian justice system” behind the city’s stop-and-frisk police policy, which de Blasio has vowed to end. Belafonte also claimed: “New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”
Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana lamented a New York City plagued by “classism” and a racial schism with “brown-stoned and brown-skinned playing a tug of war.”
Letitia James, the city’s new public advocate, pounded home de Blasio’s campaign themes in accusing the city of living in a “gilded age of inequality where decrepit homeless shelters and housing developments stand in the neglected shadow of gleaming multimillion-dollar condos.”
Added James: “The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots undermines our city and tears at the fabric of our democracy.”
Reverend Fred Lucas, the senior pastor at the Brooklyn Community Church, in his invocation referenced the “plantation of New York City.”
Lucas’s comments drew quick rebukes on Twitter. Columnist Linda Stasi wrote: “Cleric Fred Lucas Jr., calling NYC a plantation in his "prayer" is a disgrace! Isn't this supposed to be a day of uniting?”
Brooklyn Democratic district leader Betty Ann Canizio was not impressed with the tone of the inauguration, tweeting: “I find these speakers offensive. It appears to be reeking of racism. Didn’t know we had a plantation, nor am I shocked at prison pop.”
It was left to former President Bill Clinton, who delivered the oath of office, to strike a note of comity during the ceremony, saying: “I also want to thank Mayor Bloomberg, who has committed so much of his life to New York City … He leaves the city stronger and healthier than he found it.”
Even the stalwartly liberal New York Times could not abide the tone of the speakers, criticizing several by name. Wrote the Times in its editorial: “Too bad the speakers on stage with him didn’t get the unity part, marring the event with backward-looking speeches both graceless and smug.”
The Times slammed Letitia James for using a 12-year-old girl as a prop: “Ms. James turned her into Exhibit A of an Inauguration Day prosecution: the People v. Mayor Bloomberg.”
The Times also deemed Belafonte’s remark about a burgeoning New York prison population in New York an “utterly bogus claim.”
The paper even defended Bloomberg, to a point: “Mr. Bloomberg had his mistakes and failures, but he was not a cartoon Gilded Age villain. He deserved better than pointless and tacky haranguing from speakers eager to parrot Mr. de Blasio’s campaign theme.”
The following day, an unrepentant de Blasio defended the harsh words directed at Bloomberg, telling the Times: “I’m very comfortable with all that was done.”
Updated: Jan. 03, 2014