HERE'S WHAT'S UP: Median household income has fallen every year since 2007—we're now back to 1988 levels. In that same time period, the nation's per-person gross domestic product has shot up 40 percent. But when adjusted for inflation, the average male worker makes less than he did in the late '70s, while the top one percent of American earners make twice what they did back then.
We're in trouble, is the thing. And if that message comes off as a stale Occupy Wall Street platitude or another grim snippet of economic woe, watch the excellent Inequality for All. Then see how you feel. The documentary is a sharp rejoinder to people who mindlessly trot out the word "communist" at any mention of tax increases on the wealthy, who instill moneyed "job creators" with Christ-like powers, as if there would be jobs to create without the dying middle class. It's an eminently watchable, important, and useful film that will reframe how you view America's economic malaise and the staggering income inequality that fuels it.
Inequality tags along with Robert Reich, a University of California at Berkeley economics professor who served as secretary of labor under Bill Clinton. Reich is a small man—as the film takes unneeded, sometimes-hokey pains to note—but his chief attributes are intellect and a flair for framing thorny monetary problems succinctly. The film is a slow-build call to arms, walking us through America's complicated history with organized labor and wages, and introducing your boilerplate cast of documentary characters before reaching a fervent fortissimo: This situation is untenable.
But Inequality stops there. It has to. Reich, in decades of tackling these problems, hasn't been able to effect a lasting strategy for improving our situation. And with a US political system more permissive than ever to corporate influence, things are perhaps getting worse.
"History is on the side of positive social change," Reich assures his Berkeley students at the end of the film, exhorting them, and us, to go forth as catalysts. Let's hope he's right.