Inequality, Opportunity and Poverty

Published — December 27, 2019

2019’s best stories on inequality: the new Gilded Age

From top left to bottom right: Leonard Edwards visits Bread for the City, a social service organization in Washington, D.C., where he can use WiFi rather than draining data from his limited cellphone plan. (Jarrad Henderson, USA Today/© ) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been held for years at Guatanamo Bay prison, where he admitted to killing Daniel Pearl. ( Spc. Cody Black/U.S. Army/) President Donald Trump shows off the tax bill after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci).


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2019 was a momentous year for many reasons, from the impeachment of a president to the sudden emergence of a 16-year-old as the face of climate change. But it will also be noteworthy for this milestone: The U.S. Census Bureau reported income inequality is at its highest level in 50 years. We have entered a new Gilded Age.

Explaining how this came to be — and the systemic causes behind it — is one of the defining stories of our time. It’s so important that investigating inequality will be a major part of the Center for Public Integrity’s mission in 2020.

Below are our top picks for this year’s inequality coverage. We chose these stories because they pinpoint the institutions, corporations, policies and practices that widen this gap, from the New York Times’ groundbreaking “1619 Project,” which explored the legacy of slavery in America, to Public Integrity’s “Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich Get Richer,” which investigated who benefitted from the president’s tax policies.

Christopher Mathias, Huffington PostGo Back To Your Country, They Said — A database documenting the rise of the slur “go back to your country” and its implications at a time when deportation, family separation and violence against people of color is on the rise.

Samantha Melamed, Philadelphia Inquirer: Father, Son. Cellmates — A searing portrait of generational incarceration.

Barbara Laker, Wendy Ruderman and Dylan Purcell, Philadelphia Inquirer: Danger: Learn At Your Own Risk — Many Philadelphia classrooms put children at risk with environmental hazards including lead paint, mold and deteriorated asbestos.

Wendi C. Thomas, ProPublica-MLK50: Justice Through JournalismThe Nonprofit Hospital That Makes Millions, Owns a Collection Agency and Relentlessly Sues the Poor — An investigation into the predatory bill-collection practices of a nonprofit hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Center For Public Integrity: Trump’s Tax Cuts — How the 2017 tax bill significantly widened America’s income gap, benefitted the wealthy, reduced charitable giving, favored whites over minorities and failed to deliver promises to bring back manufacturing jobs.

Tracie McMillan, Mother JonesHow One Company Is Making Millions Off Trump’s War on the Poor — The controversial practices of Maximus, a private company administering public benefits programs for multiple cities and the Social Security Administration.

Jared Bennett, Ashley Wong, Center For Public Integrity: Under Trump, Millions of Low-Income People Lose Access to Cellphones — How Lifeline, a federal assistance program subsidizing low-cost cellphone coverage, is being attacked by the Trump administration.

Jared Bennett, Center for Public Integrity: Lawmakers Target Anti-Poverty Programs After Paid Trips to Disney — Efforts by a conservative think tank to limit food stamps and Medicaid through wooing lawmakers with junkets and perks.

Ann Choi, Bill Dedman, Keith Herbert, Olivia Winslow and Arthur Browne, Newsday: Long Island Divided — A three-year investigation into racial discrimination by Long Island’s real estate agents.

Ko Bragg, Melissa Lewis: Center for Investigative Reporting: Bound by Statute — How Jim Crow era laws in Mississippi are still affecting African-American children today. 

New York Times Magazine: The 1619 Project — An ambitious overview tracing America’s 400 years of slavery and its consequences.

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