American Inequality, the Next Grand Challenge

Inequality will widen in the US intensifying what could be a grand challenge for associations that work to ensure access to basic human services and provide access to opportunity.

I write today as the 2017 tax legislation wins final Congressional approval. The only way this legislation doesn’t become a windfall for the wealthy is if it delivers the economic stimulus its Republican champions promise.  

But it is only one of many pieces of evidence that inequality is widening. What economists have called the bell-shaped economy or the hollowing out of the middle class is another indicator. Or the rising cost of higher education that disadvantages many students unless they are willing to indenture their future through large student loans. Or the persistent gaps in educational achievement for minority or low income students in K-12 education. Or the shortage of affordable housing in thriving, urban communities. Or the millions of people who will be unable to afford health insurance once again as insurers adjust their rates to cover potential losses stemming from repeal of the individual mandate. For every one of these challenges there is an association with a stake in the outcome.

American inequality is one of the 41 drivers of change the ASAE ForesightWorks research identified in 2017. When association executives analyzed this driver last summer, they said associations should accept this as the grand challenge of our times. Last week the senior management team of a major healthcare association affirmed this sentiment by selecting American inequality as its top priority among 23 potential drivers of change that could affect its strategies.

Just as many associations are now examining what they can do to champion diversity and inclusion, they also should examine how their members either contribute to or mitigate American inequality.  Even associations whose members do not see their role as championing public good have a stake in a stable and secure society. They may not choose to see American inequality as a grand challenge, but they will most certainly find the consequences of ignoring the issue a challenge.