For most of the 20th century, poverty represented the root of all evil to Americans—sprouting criminality, violence, hunger, disease, stunted achievement, and premature death. With the tremendous growth of both the economy and the welfare state over the past sixty years, the political campaign against poverty has almost vanished from the public square. Today, many see economic inequality as the root cause of most, if not all, of our social ills. President Obama described it as the defining challenge of our time—one that threatens “the very essence of who we are as a people.”
It should go without saying that poverty and inequality are not the same. However, it's worth repeating, because over time a conflation of the two has taken root in common perceptions. The evils once associated with poverty have been transferred lock, stock, and barrel to inequality, whether justifiably or not.