NEWS 2013

The Undeserving Rich

Book challenges widespread assumptions about how Americans perceive income inequality

The Land of Too Much

IPR sociologist Leslie McCall's latest book is The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs about Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Started around the time of the Enron scandal and completed in a year marked by Occupy Wall Street protests and a historic widening of the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans, McCall took an in-depth look at what Americans really think about inequality—not just what mainstream media or a few survey questions report they think. She disproves the widely held view that Americans do not care about inequality, pointing to a lack of data and misinterpretation of data as underpinning such views. In analyzing current and past public opinion surveys, she finds that Americans’ concerns about income inequality have increased, particularly in economic upswings when the rich are seen as prospering while the rest of America sees itself falling behind with poor jobs, low pay, and restricted education opportunities. She shows how Americans tend to favor policies that expand opportunity and equality in the workplace rather than tax-and-spend policies to redistribute income. Her book explains the seeming paradox of how Americans might appear lukewarm to the idea of a redistributive “welfare state” yet still yearn for a more fair and equitable economy.

Leslie McCall is professor of sociology and an IPR fellow.