#3: Income Inequality Interviews

I decided to interview my dad, Matt Wormser, and my mom, Amelia Gerlin. My goal was to learn what they already knew about income inequality and what I could learn from them. I also wanted to hear how they think income inequality is affecting Vermont and what we can do to stop it. I wanted to find out the more local issues that they felt were in my sphere of influence and learn what I could do about these problems.

Interview 1: Matt Wormser

What have you heard recently about income inequality?

A huge global study came out recently linking economic stagnation to higher rates of income inequality. The hypothesis was lower income inequality gave people more incentive to work harder, because the working class realized that their hard work did lead to them getting better jobs and more income. In societies with much higher income inequality, people felt like getting ahead didn’t happen on merit alone, but on having connections and knowing somebody. This study linked greater income equality to greater economic growth. If people see hope for them to be able to get ahead using hard work, it led to people working harder overall.

What do you know about income inequality in Vermont?

Income inequality in Vermont is mirroring a national and international trend, which is that as jobs become more technology-dependent, the higher wage jobs tend to be in the urban areas, and that’s happening globally and in Vermont. Vermont has seen wages rise, in Chittenden County especially, but have been much more stagnant in rural parts of the state, where poverty is much more prevalent. The dairy industry has been declining in the past generation, which rural economies relied on heavily for a significant part of their income. As income from that export industry has declined, income inequality has increased.

What can be done to solve income inequality?

A big part of solving income inequality is driving economic growth in rural areas using policy and finding ways to produce higher value products. Examples we have already seen are artisanal cheeses and other dairy products, beer and other liquors, forest products, and tourism, which we have already seen drive economic growth in rural areas. Tax and spending policy is also a big way to reduce income inequality. For example, spending on affordable housing, high quality education, and subsidized access to healthcare and Medicaid. Promoting increased taxes for those who can most afford it and finding ways to use that money to subsidize poor Vermonters together helps reduce income inequality.

Interview 2: Amelia Gerlin

How have you seen income inequality in Vermont?

My mom is a social worker and has worked with many working poor families. These families work low-wage jobs, but they work many hours and they are away from home a lot yet they still do not make a living wage. They are dependent on the government for help with food via food stamps, sometimes live in subsidized housing, and have Medicaid. My mom is a big supporter of these government programs and is very glad they exist. The problem is that these families are working hard enough that they shouldn’t be below the poverty line and need these entitlements. What she has witnessed is that these families are under a great deal of stress when basic necessities like food and housing are hard to afford. There is lots of anxiety and stress on everybody and it makes it difficult for these families to thrive.

Is it hard to escape the poverty cycle?

Yes, because the jobs that are now available with limited education do not pay enough for families to reach a place of stability such as being able to buy a house, a working car, and have time off from work. My mom notices that a problem for hourly workers is they don’t know their schedule from week to week, making it very difficult to plan for things like child care, possibly a second job, and arranging details of life such as doctor appointments, parent teacher conferences, etc. It can be very hard to plan around your work schedule if you have other conflicts, and not being able to come to a shift can heavily cost you. The large corporations like Walmart, Amazon, CVS and more all employ lots of minimum-wage workers. If you can’t come to a shift working for them, you might get not many hours that week or even get fired. Most people can’t afford this kind of lapse in pay, and as a result give control of their lives to these corporations.

Unfortunately I was only able to interview two people this week, but I felt their answers were very sufficient. I learned lots more on my topic from these conversations. They helped to widen my view of the topic and to see the vast scope of problems it causes. My dad helped me to learn much more about how economies relate to income inequality and what we can do to stop this in our economy. I learned from my mom the vast problems income inequality has on families and how it effects people’s children as well as the parents. These interviews have definitely made me more interested in income inequality, as I can understand the struggle of people in poverty more and I know more about the problem as a whole. I’m still trying to figure out what I can do to help fight this issue, but I’m excited to learn and focus on something more specific within this issue that I can help with.

Finn Wormser
My name is Finn Wormser and I'm from Shelburne. I'm a ninth grader from CVU High School. This is my first time doing the program, but I'm familiar with it through friends and my brother. I love playing sports and watching sports. I play volleyball, basketball, and am going to start ultimate frisbee in the spring. I play the bass and my brother, dad and I like to pretend we're a band. I am very excited to start What's The Story and to learn about a social issue in Vermont.

2 Responses to “#3: Income Inequality Interviews

  • Hi Finn,

    These were such interesting, well-informed interviews. You asked some great questions, and it sounds like both of your parents have a lot of insight to share on this subject. I would love to know what some of your peers or people less connected to this topic think about income inequality. I imagine they might have very different understandings, which could give you insight into the base knowledge your potential audience might have.

    In your dad’s interview, he brought up the idea of using taxes and subsidies to equalize the income gap. This idea makes me wonder: How do we convince those who are economically advantaged to willingly embrace tax increases to subsidize lower income Vermonters? As we see on a national level, so many people seem to have a “poverty mindset” – seeing themselves as not having enough financial resources to be able to help others, when in reality they may have significantly more than what others are trying to survive on. I wonder what it would take for people to be willing to give up some of what they have (and what they feel they’ve earned) in order to support lower income individuals.

    How, if at all, has your mom’s work given rise to your interest in and awareness of this issue? I think that many people are unaware of how income inequality affects the lives of people. In trying to figure out what you can do to help combat this problem, I wonder how you might try to build empathy by sharing stories to foster greater awareness and support for certain government polices, like SNAP or subsidized housing?

    Keep up the great work!

    – Fallon

  • These are incredible interviews. Your parents are so thoughtful and knowledgable!

    I love the point that your dad makes about the research showing that inequality is associated with lots of negative outcomes for societies. A great source for this can be found at https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/about-inequality/impacts

    I also love what your mom had to say about impacts on real people. Please see the link in the comment I made in the previous post.

    I really like what Fallon suggested about considering the reasons that redistribution is such a nonstarter as a policy. This would be an interesting way to probe how the structures of our society perpetuate income inequality.

    In addition to structures such as tax laws and other policies, there are also cultural structures that create the conditions for these broader influences as well as the way that people think about the issue in their everyday lives. One cultural piece that is very relevant here is the “myth of meritocracy” – the idea that in order to be successful in America, you just need to work hard and develop your talents.

    If you are interested in this line of thinking, here’s a link to a podcast about the myth of meritocracy, along with a link to a larger series called “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths.” https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/myth-meritocracy

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