Inequality, Poverty, and Discrimination

Read this chapter for a more detailed look at the topic of income inequality and discrimination in the labor markets as these are real examples of market failures. Attempt the "Try It" problems at the end of each section before checking your answers.

5. Review and Practice

5.1. Concept Problems

  1. Explain how rising demand for college-educated workers and falling demand for high-school-educated workers contributes to increased inequality of the distribution of income.
  2. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the following three alternatives for dealing with the rising inequality of wages.
    1. Increase the minimum wage each year so that wages for unskilled workers rise as fast as wages for skilled workers.
    2. Subsidize the wages of unskilled workers.
    3. Do nothing.
  3. How would you define poverty? How would you determine whether a particular family is poor? Is the test you have proposed an absolute or a relative test?
  4. Why does the failure to adjust the poverty line for regional differences in living costs lead to an understatement of poverty in some states and an overstatement of poverty in others?
  5. The text argues that welfare recipients could achieve higher levels of satisfaction if they received cash rather than in-kind aid. Use the same argument to make a case that gifts given at Christmas should be in cash rather than specific items. Why do you suppose they usually are not?
  6. Suppose a welfare program provides a basic grant of $10,000 per year to poor families but reduces the grant by $1 for every $1 of income earned. How would such a program affect a household's incentive to work?
  7. Welfare reform calls for a two-year limit on welfare payments, after which recipients must go to work. Suppose a recipient with children declines work offers. Should aid be cut? What about the children?
  8. How would you tackle the welfare problem? State the goals you would seek, and explain how the measures you propose would work to meet those goals.
  9. Suppose a common but unfounded belief held that people with blue eyes were not as smart as people with brown eyes. What would we expect to happen to the relative wages of the two groups? Suppose you were an entrepreneur who knew that the common belief was wrong. What could you do to enhance your profits? Suppose other entrepreneurs acted in the same way. How would the wages of people with blue eyes be affected?
  10. The Case in Point on Income Inequality in the United States versus continental Western Europe argues that people get, in effect, what they expect. People in the United States attribute success to hard work and skill, while people in Continental Western Europe attribute success to connections, luck, and corruption. With what set of views do you agree? Explain.
  11. The Case in Point on welfare reform in Britain versus that in the United States argues that the British system, before it could be adopted in the United States, would require a change in attitudes in the United States. What sort of change would it require? Do you prefer the British approach? Why or why not?
  12. James Heckman of the University of Chicago advocates a program of early intervention targeted at low income families. What are the advantages of such an approach? The disadvantages?
  13. Give five reasons that the income distribution in the United States has become more unequal in the last several decades. Do you regard this as a problem for society? Why or why not?
  14. Suppose that all welfare aid were converted to programs of cash assistance. Total spending on welfare would remain unchanged. How would this affect the poverty rate? Why?