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Income disparity may not hit home everywhere

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KAI RYSSDAL: The more traditional definition of egalitarian might have something to do with everybody having an even chance at success. And living the American middle-class dream.

Commentator Amelia Tyagi was at a family reunion in Oklahoma not too long ago. Which made her realize that whether the middle class feels squeezed depends on where you are.

AMELIA TYAGI: As we ate peach cobbler and took turns rocking my cousin’s new baby, it finally struck me: there really are two Americas.

But the issues that divide us aren’t what you’d think.

We watch the same movies, follow the same sports teams and send our kids to public schools where the same subjects are taught. Nor are we divided by hot-button issues like gay marriage or abortion. Indeed, no one even bothered to mention those issues around the picnic table.

The real difference is money. And that great American dream, owning a home.

On the coasts, average incomes are higher. But just a bit. In Los Angeles, an average family makes about 15 percent more than in Oklahoma City. But an average home in Los Angeles costs 600 percent more than in Oklahoma City.

My cousin, who works as a skilled mechanic in Fort Worth, just built a brand new three-bedroom house on a two-acre lot. Here in Los Angeles, that same house would be out of reach for most doctors and lawyers.

In L.A., an average mechanic, or teacher, or policeman would have to win the lottery to buy a new home. Much less a house with a three-car garage on a wooded two-acre lot.

Is it just a coincidence that the great housing divide tends to line up along blue state / red state lines?

Maybe the message from the left — that the middle class is squeezed and the government ought to do something about it — resonates to an average guy on the coasts who can’t afford to buy a house like the one he grew up in. And maybe the message from the right — that the free market economy is working just fine — rings true when you sit on the front porch of a nice new house.

Maybe we have one culture, but two economic realities. Maybe what divides us is money.

RYSSDAL: Amelia Tyagi is co-founder of The Business Talent Group.

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