London is burning at the hands of its own citizens, and it is leading people to ask why. Why would anyone want to destroy the place where they live? There is no one reason, but the multitude of flash points do point to a larger theme: disenfranchisement.
The causes of disenfranchisement in London are wide ranging, but socioeconomic conditions certainly play a part. The U.K., much like the United States, has been facing economic problems in recent years that were largely caused by wealthy financial professionals. But those individuals that caused the financial crisis continue to prosper while the ill effects trickle down to the lower classes; pushing already struggling low-wage workers closer to economic devastation.
High unemployment and a large wealth gap can create a sense that the system isn't working for those people at the lower end of the spectrum. When those individuals no longer feel that they benefit from the system, or that their community is not offering them an opportunity to improve their situation, events like what we are seeing in London can take place. What is to keep someone from destroying the community they live in when they don't feel that they are a part of the community?
To think that any of the conditions that lead to these riots in the U.K. do not exist in the U.S. would be naïve. The U.K's youth unemployment rate has been hovering around 20 percent, which is approximately the same level as the United States. Race is strongly tied to economic conditions in both countries; a recent study at Brandeis University showed that the United States has a racial wealth gap between black families and white families that has more than quadrupled over the past generation.
Additionally, U.S. policy makers, much like their U.K. counterparts, have been undertaking unpopular austerity measures that could lead to an even bigger wealth gap. While the U.K. is cutting its popular education maintenance allowance, which assists poor citizens with college education costs, the U.S. cut subsidies to graduate student loans -- substantially increasing the cost of post-graduate education that could lead to better jobs. Entitlement programs also face cuts, which could place an even larger burden on those who need help the most. Huge groups of people are being left behind, and that can have wide-reaching consequences.
By no means are riots like those in London the answer to problems, but they do exist as a response to those problems. The United States needs to tread carefully to make sure it does end up like the U.K. and any number of other countries that have disenfranchised their citizens to the point that they lash out. Our government continues to make policies that help rich corporations and private jet owners while failing to create good jobs that promote a more even distribution of wealth. This is creating a dangerous divide that must be addressed if we want our citizens to feel like they are part of their country.