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A new report from the Economic Policy Institute, released Tuesday, highlights the increasingly prevalent and disparate effects of wage inequality. With a focus on same-gender wage gaps, the report demonstrates that income inequality affects all Americans, and reminds us that the implications and scope of the widening wage gap are not limited only to the poorest citizens.

The EPI notes that “since the late 1980s . . . the top has pulled away from everyone else.” As the nation’s wealthiest continued to make more money at the turn of the century, the wages of middle- and lower-class Americans remained relatively stagnant — effectively resulting in a decrease when adjusted to meet higher inflation rates — or increased at a rate slower than that by which the wages of the upper class grew.

According to the EPI, in 1979, the wages of those in the top 95th percentile were 2.2 times higher than the wages of the “typical worker,” or those considered “middle-wage earners,” at the 50th percentile. This “95/50 gap” applied to both men and women.

Over time, however, the disparity has widened.

As shown in the chart below, by 1999, men in the 95th percentile were making 2.7 times more than men in the 50th percentile. The same gap existed among women. Ten years later, in 2009, the wage gap among men had dramatically widened: The top earners were making 3.1 times more than middle-wage earners. The wage gap among women also grew wider, but not as dramatically. The top female earners made 2.8 times more than their middle-wage counterparts.

By 2013, the typical 95th percentile man’s wage was 3.3 times higher than the typical 50th percentile man’s. The same year, the typical 95th percentile woman’s wage was three times higher than the average 50th percentile woman’s wage.

The EPI’s most obvious finding is that inequality is increasing at a quicker pace among male earners than it is among female earners. But other concerns arise from the data. If men and women are disproportionately impacted by income inequality, can one assume that income inequality facilitates more general, societal inequality? Is it possible that the slower rate of income inequality experienced by women is a result of female earners making less than their male counterparts? The notion is alarming because it would prove a direct correlation between the gender pay gap, income inequality and the other forms of inequality that result directly from income inequality.

Today, the data at least prove one thing: The wage gap is widening, and both men and women are feeling it — including those who are in a better position than the nation’s lowest-wage earners.

“The enormous increase in inequality among both men and women over the last 35 years is a testament to the fact that skewed wage growth has become a core economic challenge of our time,” writes economist Heidi Shierholz in the EPI report.

High-wage inequality is, as Shierholz states, the “key wedge between a successful economy … and an unsuccessful economy,” and it is also one of the greatest threats to America’s middle class.

Photo: Brad_crooks via Flickr
Chart via Economic Policy Institute
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Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.