Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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February 23, 2014

Americans grapple with income inequality

(Continued)

Terrell acknowledges much has changed since the Jim Crow laws of his youth, but says creating economic opportunity requires doing more. He points out that his church sits just across the street from a public housing project where children of families often don't have the advantages that wealthier families consider basic. At least when he was a boy, those with limited education knew they could find a job in agriculture or a factory.

Today, "it's harder because we've moved from an industrial society to a technological society. And who has the computer at home? The haves," says Terrell, who volunteers as a mentor to African-American boys. "They don't need a handout. ... They need support in terms of people helping them to achieve their goals. Now, that may be financially. But they need to be put in a position where they can help somebody else."

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West about 45 miles, at the foot of the Blue Ridge in Staunton, retiree Bob Clatterbaugh glances up from his solitaire hand at the bar of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Post 680. The television screen displays a report on Obama's minimum wage proposal; Clatterbaugh is skeptical. Bar manager Hope Fitzgerald and Chuck Gallagher, a beverage distributor, join the conversation.

Fitzgerald, 55, recalls earning $15 an hour in the mid-1990s when she worked the line at a now-shuttered men's suit factory, a job that came with health insurance. Jobs like that have disappeared, she says, noting that her adult son is working temporary positions and lives at home. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, she says, but public assistance too often seems to go to those who aren't really trying to get ahead.

"The social issues need to take a back seat," Gallagher says, criticizing Democrats in Washington who focus on increasing aid programs. "They need to figure out a way to get people working."

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