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Income Inequality: More Prevalent Than Ever

What is income inequality?

According to Britannica, income inequality in economics is the “significant disparity in the distribution of income between individuals, groups, populations, social classes, or countries.” Income inequality is a major factor in social classes and status, wealth and political power. It also directly can influence the quality of life, health and families.

Income inequality in Gainesville, Florida

Although students may feel tucked away from the harsh realities of income inequality at the University of Florida, the city the university resides in is in trouble. USA Today ranked Gainesville fourth in a roster of cities with the widest gap between rich and poor. Gainesville topples over many other major cities with alarming statistics, such as 20% of the wealthiest households dominating over half of the region’s income and a staggering $38,000 household income. Keep in mind, the median necessary living wage across the U.S. is $67,000. Nearly 15% of Gainesville households earn less than $10,000 per year, placing them in extreme poverty. 

What do all these numbers mean? It means there is a major case of income inequality in Gainesville. Income inequality, which disproportionately affects those who are not wealthy, leaves them at a disadvantage when it comes to health, food, job and education opportunities, transportation, safety and even the betterment of city infrastructures, such as libraries and historic landmarks. 

Income Inequality with Students

Professor Sean Reardon from Stanford University stated, “One of the clearest manifestations of growing economic inequality in our nation today is the widening educational achievement gap between the children of the wealthiest and the children of everyone else.”

This is due to incomes correlated to educational opportunities, starting from as early as preschool and running into collegiate degrees and beyond. This can also be seen when students search for necessary tools such as differing SAT/ACT tests, admission deposits and better college housing, among other factors.

While affluent parents are investing more time and money in their kids’ education starting early, low-income and middle-class families cannot keep up with their resources, money and time. 

The children of the rich are, for the most part, have more opportunities to excel — and by a landslide, do. Professor Reardon conducted a study that found 15% of high-income students in 2004 enrolled into prestigious and competitive universities in comparison to only 5% of middle-income students and 2% of lower-income grads. While the cycle repeats itself, Reardon stated, “For low-income children, the American Dream is further out of reach.”

Students at UF

College life is expensive, as many of us may know. It is especially expensive if you would like to participate in clubs, Greek life, athletics and anything close to a remotely normal social life. 

Undergraduate on-campus housing rates per semester at UF do not fall under the $2,200 margin during fall and spring semesters. Most of the rates exceed $2,700 per semester. Some of the most expensive rates are at Cypress Hall and Infinity Hall with rates between $3,735-$4,125 per semester. From my experience, off-campus rent can range between $350 to $800 a month excluding utilities. Meal plans can add an extra $2,000 to a student’s expenditures alone per semester. The 2021-22 academic year for in-state students is projected to cost nearly $13,000 in tuition and fees alone. 

Sure, while many of the more well-off students have help from their parents, where does that leave the rest of the students? Are they simply supposed to not pursue education at UF, let alone anywhere because of the costs? 

UF alumnus Jessica Basallo comes from a low-to-middle-class Hispanic family in Miami. Basallo was independent throughout college, which meant having to lead two jobs throughout most of her academic career to cover her living costs. 

“I wish that I was able to focus on school instead of having to work as well,” she said. “I feel like I missed out on a lot of experiences like studying abroad or competitions with my clubs because I couldn’t afford it.”

Basallo also mentioned that because of her necessary long working hours, her grades and GPA were never truly what she aspired them to be. Working two jobs in order to get by meant losing out on time to enjoy school activities many students indulge in, such as homecoming week, football games, Gator Nights and even casually hanging out. 

The same way there are many students like Basallo at UF, there are also many from affluent families. Inevitably, this creates a wealth gap among students, but there is also an existing disconnect when it comes to financially staying afloat. 

 “I think there are a lot of people at UF that have no clue what it is to struggle financially,” Basallo noted, 

While many students have the advantage to eat at restaurants every week, shop, barhop and have those activities funded by their families, Basallo mentioned, many others do not have that same luxury. 

While income inequality runs rampant in the Gainesville community and the entire nation, it also affects the community of students at UF. Many students cannot enjoy the simple yet fun aspects of being a college student because of the crushing work hours necessary to fend for themselves. Income inequality is present in these students’ lives and paints a bold picture of why it is an urgent problem not only in the Gainesville community but on a national level. 

Lover of writing, literature, art and photography. Determined to not only help but give people a voice. Building a better world for all the people I love and have yet to love.
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