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Illinois author offers up an idea to help fix income inequality

Brian C. Johnson midshot
Brian C. Johnson

Brian C. Johnson recently laid out his plan to take care of one sort of inequality in his book, Our Fair Share: How One Small Change Can Create a More Equitable American Economy.

Johnson, CEO of the LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality Illinois, has an idea is to create a $570 citizen dividend for every American – or about $2,000 a year a family of four— which would be funded through the 5 percent of corporate profits.

“To put that in context, that is about two months’ worth of rent, or two months’ worth of groceries, or two months’ worth of child care for the median American family. So that's going to have a pretty transformative impact on those living most at the margins, who could use it the most,’’ said Johnson who said he came up the idea because he was struggling with the problem he saw “as terrible inequity rising in this country, at least economic inequality. “

Johnson said that since his childhood, the economy has nearly tripled in size.

“But the bottom half of workers hasn't seen a real increase in their wages in nearly 40 years. And when we see this amount of inequality rising, that we haven't honestly seen since the 1920s, we have to ask ourselves, does this represent the best of who we say we are? And I think the answer is pretty clear. It does not,” he said.

“But I think the real power of the citizen dividend is that when every Illinois and every American gets that check every year, they're going to remember that we all have an ownership claim and our collective prosperity,’’ Johnson said. “And my hope is that that will force us to reckon with how we take care of each other, and how we demand that ownership going forward.”

He said as an agent for social change he looked at his own experiences had to dig deep into his own life experiences determine why he felt such anger about the growing inequality.

He has been a first grade teacher, political candidate and a leader in a community organizing who worked in two dozen U.S. cities. The son of an army officer, he lived in 11 different homes before he was 13.

As an adult he’s lived in different parts of the country such as Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Los Angeles. He was educated at Princeton University in New Jersey and has graduate degrees in business and law from Stanford University in California.

“And now in, in running Equality Illinois,’’ he said. “I get to travel the whole state. And so, for me, coming to grips with my connection to a narrative about this country about how connected and vibrant and diverse we are, was critical to then being able to say, “I think I can tackle this subject about inequality through that same lens.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.