Brian Graney

John Edwards has been criss-crossing the country with his tale of two Americas. Recycling his identical campaign message from 2004 like a list of rejected pickup lines, Edwards is claiming that the United States has become a country of the haves and have-nots. Edwards draws this broad conclusion from the fact that the income disparity between the richest and poorest of American society is higher today than at any other point in recent history. This fact cannot be disputed but Edwards and his campaign have not bothered to probe this seemingly disturbing statistic and examine why this is the case.

Edwards’ reasoning for the rich accumulating so much wealth is the standard rhetoric coming from any Democrat. The Bush tax cuts, Enron, Dick Cheney and the evil Republican agenda are to blame. But as the multi-millionaire trial lawyer John Edwards finalizes his move into a 28,000-square-foot mansion in rural North Carolina, it seems the burst in wealth for the already affluent does not exclude liberal politicians.

As the cogent pundit George Will pointed out in his speech before a pathetically sparse crowd at Millett Hall Tuesday, the reasons for the greater income disparity in America have to do with the aging population and higher education levels for Americans.

With nearly 80 million members of the baby boomer generation on the verge of retirement age, Americans are invariably becoming older as a country. And with age comes the opportunity for investment and the garnering of assets. In the early 1900s, the life expectancy of an American male was 46 years old. At 46 now, many Americans are just beginning their careers and certainly not staring down death. With such a low life expectancy, the concept of saving money for retirement and investing in capital like homes, cars, stocks and bonds seemed foolish. But now, even those firmly planted within the friendly confines of the suburban, middle class lifestyle can become millionaires if they live long enough without medical complications to see their IRAs reach a sizeable balance.

With the changing U.S. economy, education has become greatly emphasized as a necessary tool to succeed in securing a lucrative career. With college students, like the entire student body of Miami University, investing in themselves through a sometimes arduous four-year college education, they are investing in their future to achieve a career goal. Such a long investment would have looked wassteful to an American man who fully expected to live for only 46 years. Yet now the collection of vast knowledge is possible for millions of young Americans. With the explosion of college degrees and the widespread belief that a bachelor’s degree is as common as the wheel, many Americans are going on to graduate school and earning even greater salaries. Meanwhile, those without the financial resources to attend college are not becoming poorer or worse off – they are being offered better paying jobs and higher standards of living than ever before. While this reality is far from an equitable one, it casts doubt on John Edwards’ idea that a greater majority of Americans are destined for the slummy Hoovervilles of the impoverished past.