Seminars at Steamboat speaker talks income inequality

Teresa Ristow
Seminars at Steamboat speaker Richard Reeves talks to a crowd Thursday at Strings Music Pavilion.
Teresa Ristow

— Seminars at Steamboat speaker Richard Reeves on Thursday challenged audience members to go home and consider where they truly fit on the scale of income distribution in the country.

“If we’re looking for the face of inequality, many of us should be looking in the mirror,” said Reeves, who spoke about the American dream in the context of rising inequalities among various groups of people in the United States.

Reeves, a senior fellow of economic studies at the Brookings Institution and co-director of its Center on Children and Families, said it’s wrong to blame the top 1 percent of the wealthy for the problem of income inequality.

Most of Reeves’ discussion focused on considering U.S. citizens as part of one of five categories based on their family income as children.

The lowest category represents the bottom 20 percent of people based on income, while the top category represents the wealthiest 20 percent.

For most, the income category in which a person begins his or her life is a determining factor for what category he or she will end up in as an adult, Reeves explained.

While some groups, such as white Americans, have a reasonable chance of moving into a wealthier bracket, while other groups, such as black Americans, have much poorer chances of upward mobility, Reeves explained.

In addition to race, a person’s geographic location, education and family are determining factors that can skew the chances of upward mobility, Reeves said.

For example, children who grew up with married parents are much more likely to move upward on the income scale than children who grew up with unmarried parents.

“The evidence is very strong that stability is what matters, and marriage is a way that Americans achieve stability,” Reeves said.

According to Reeves, one cultural issue perpetuating income inequality is that upper middle-class Americans don’t believe they are part of the problem, but instead, blame the ultra-rich “one percenters.”

“I think that’s an absurd and regressive thing to do,” Reeves said.

He said that, often, upper middle-class people cheat in small ways to continue the cycle of wealth and success for their children. Reeves’ cited examples of exclusionary zoning to keep poorer children out of the same schools as more affluent children, favoritism in internship programs for students with a family connection and legacy admissions to prominent colleges.

“We cheat on behalf of our children,” said Reeves, who acknowledged he was likely part of the top fifth of people, in terms of income. “It’s very hard to look in the mirror and see we’re part of the problem.”

In his upcoming book, “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust,” Reeves said he will offer some solutions to the issues of income inequality and how it affects upward mobility, including tax reform and reform of higher-education funding mechanisms.

Reeves’ talk, the last of the 2016 Seminars at Steamboat season, will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29 on KUNC radio, and a video recording of the talk will be online at within two weeks.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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