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The Great Divide

Income inequality is surging, and there are few countries where it is rising faster than the United States. The distance between rich and poor is greater in America than nearly all other developed countries, making the US a leader in a trend that economists warn has dire consequences. GlobalPost sets out on a reporting journey to get at the ‘ground truth’ of inequality through the lenses of education, race, immigration, health care, government, labor and natural resources. The hope is to hold a mirror up to the US to see how it compares to countries around the world.

Mapping the Divide

 
 
 

Crossing the Divide


Many of us think of Bangkok’s slums and its glamorous shopping malls as embodying the rich-poor divide of the developing world. But few realize that some American metropolitan areas are beginning to mirror that level of inequality.

In fact, Fairfield County, Connecticut, which includes the posh town of Greenwich and the gritty industrial city of Bridgeport, has almost the same Gini Coefficient as Thailand. In this video, photographer Ed Kashi traveled on both sides of the tracks in Connecticut and in Bangkok. He worked with GlobalPost reporters Michael Moran, who came of age in Fairfield, and Patrick Winn, who has covered Bangkok for many years, to document the distance between the rich and the poor in both places. Although they are radically different, the parallels between Connecticut and Thailand may surprise you.

Picturing the Divide

Throughout this Special Report, a team of top photographers around the world, from Connecticut to Thailand and Kenya to Kansas, are setting out to capture images of inequality. Most are using only an iPhone to bring an immediacy to the work, which we will curate daily, Stay up to date with our project and follow their latest instagram posts.

photography by:
vii photo agency

GroundTruth Blog

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BOSTON – The issue of rising income inequality pushed its way into the American consciousness in 2013 in a way it never has before.

A consensus has formed around the idea that income inequality is the single most important challenge facing the world, a conviction shared most notably and passionately by two leaders with two very different world views:

President Barack Obama and Pope Francis.

Both men have vowed to make the issue a cornerstone of their leadership and both men have finally put a...

The Team

Charles M. Sennott is the Vice President, Editor-at-Large and co-founder of...
Gary Knight is the Visual Editor and Co-Founder of the GroundTruth Project....
Kevin Douglas Grant is the Senior Editor of Special Reports at GlobalPost,...
Emily Judem is GlobalPost's Multimedia Producer for Special Reports. Previously...
Ed Kashi is a photojournalist dedicated to documenting the social and political...
On Southeast Asia
Based in Bangkok, Patrick Winn is Global Post's senior Southeast Asia...
Michael Moran is foreign affairs columnist for GlobalPost and wrote one of the...
Technology
Front-End Developer / Designer. Lover of multimedia, photojournalism & old...
Julie Winokur, Founding Director of Talking Eyes Media, is a writer and...
Colombia
John Otis is based in Bogota, Colombia, where he also writes for Time...
Brazil
Elizabeth Tuttle is a Boston-based journalist. In 2012, she lived in Rio de...
China
Kathleen E. McLaughlin is an American journalist who has been based in China...
Dan leads the design and development of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting...
Health
Juliana Schatz is multimedia reporter. She started her career at the award-...
Ben Schreckinger is an Atlantic Media Fellow reporting for National Journal. He...
Sim Chi Yin is a photographer based in China and a member of VII Photo Agency’s...
John Stanmeyer, born in Illinois, is a founding member of the VII photo agency...
Adam Belz is a journalist in Minneapolis. He writes about business and the...
Afghanistan
Seamus Murphy began photographing Afghanistan in 1994, and his 2008 book A...
Richard Sennott's assignments have taken him into conflicts in Afghanistan,...
Nichole Sobecki is an independent photographer and writer based in Nairobi,...
Samuel James is a photographer, writer and educator from Cincinnati, Ohio....
India
Sonya Fatah covers religion and Indo-Pak affairs for GlobalPost from New Delhi...

About This Project

In cities around the world, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening.

And in each of these cities, that growing inequality comes with a cost.

The greatest cost is the political and economic instability that accompanies vast disparities of wealth, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told GlobalPost, using the United States as an example.

“We are paying a very high economic price for this inequality — our economy is less productive and efficient,” Stiglitz said. “We are also paying a price in terms of our politics and our society — inequality is undermining our democracy and our basic values.”

In this first set of stories of a GlobalPost Special Report titled “The Great Divide,” correspondents around the world are examining the global phenomenon of income inequality and why it should matter to all of us.

To most Americans, this inequality seems an obvious and age-old reality of the developing world, a cliché of the global economy.

In countries like Brazil, it is not news that the searing poverty and violence of the favelas on the hillsides of Rio tumble down to the beachfront palaces of Brazil’s ‘plutocrats,’ as author Chrystia Freeland calls the “global super-rich.”

We carry images of India with the vast and intractable poverty in cities like Mumbai up against the new wealth of a small elite generated through India’s surging business sector of technology and innovation.

We may accept that places like Thailand have desperately poor swaths of the city where people live in shanties and that they lie a stone’s throw from the shiny, downtown shopping centers where there Gucci and Apple stores thrive with the business of the high society, or “hi so,’ as they are referred to in Bangkok.

But what most Americans don’t realize is that the Gini coefficient, a metric of inequality used to measure the income gap worldwide, in many developing countries mirrors the gap in many American cities. To tell that story, For the last six months, GlobalPost correspondents and editors have collected and analyzed data and sought out human narratives that reveal how income inequality globally compares to income inequality in America. In fact, Thailand's inequality almost exactly matches that of Fairfield County, Connecticut. Brazil's is remarkably close to that of Selma, Alabama.

The stories in The Great Divide examine not only the vast disparity in wealth, but the extent to which the poor believe — or not — that they can rise up out of poverty and make it into the upper echelons of wealth.

In the developing world, it seems there is a greater acceptance of income in equality as a fact of life. In America, it seems that belief is still very much alive that the poor, if they work hard enough, can become rich.

Americans hold onto this belief even as the data suggests that the middle class has crumbled and that the possibility for any American to rise from poverty to wealth is becoming increasingly difficult. Some analysts would say it is now virtually impossible.

Starting today, the work of 10 reporting teams will take readers on a journey to get at the ‘ground truth’ of inequality as shown through the lenses of education, race, immigration, health care, government, labor and natural resources. The hope that this approach might allow American readers to hold a mirror up to their own country, a chance to see how closely our income inequality compares to other parts of the world.

By Charles M. Sennott
GlobalPost Executive Editor and co-founder

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