Minding the gap: We love defining and tracking it — but closing it seems more out of reach than ever.

KLOWTIFY Commentary Team

Today is all about the gap. Everything seems to have one: The student achievement gap; the pay equity gap; the gender gap; the racial gap; the language gap; the literacy gap; the wealth gap; the affective healthcare gap; the economic and gender confidence gaps.

The American mind embraces the gap as a given, the distance between, the distinction. A gap inherently defines the haves from the have-nots. It frames the struggle. And yet, while we love to identify the gaps, label the deficits of some against the plenty of others — rarely do we seem to manage much progress toward closing such gaps.

I am starting to wonder if that’s not the point at all.

In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, closing the pay gap between women and men has all but stalled out in the 21st century. And the student achievement gap? Negligible change over the last 50 years, yet some seem anxious to sugarcoat this stagnation: “But at least it’s not getting wider.”

Is making little-to-no progress really what we’re calling success these days? I hardly recognize America as the land of opportunity it is supposed to be.

As for the fate of progress on gender, race and ethnic economic gaps, you can follow the trend here: Women make less than men across nearly all large racial groups, according to data released in 2021 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Asian women face the largest wealth gap as compared to their male counterparts, and Black men make the least in comparison to men of other racial groups. Similarly, poverty rates are higher for women in nearly every racial group, with the largest economic gender disparity being shouldered by Black women.

We are always minding the gap but never closing it.

So how do we make meaningful progress toward equity? Solving these gap challenges is a chicken-and-egg conundrum. If the student achievement gap is inextricably linked to the wealth gap, and you need education and opportunity to address poverty, but you need income security to improve student achievement… You can see how these problems quickly balloon into the seemingly unsolvable.

So we carry on minding.

The gap grows ever-wider across other facets of American life as well, and it’s no coincidence. But fixing our politics, cooling the rhetoric, and finding common ground seems little more than a dream from a time past. Inequality is the root of everything we disagree about in this country, everything we decide we don’t like about one another.

If we really decided to focus on improving equity across all slices of society, if we actually aimed our efforts and resources at closing the gaps, I believe we’d be living in a very different America. One where we wouldn’t fear being the target of a hate act just for existing. One where your birth gender wouldn’t predicate your opportunity potential. One where your race and ethnic identity frame what you have to offer, not what you don’t have.

The status of progress as a person in this country, and as an American operating within the global fabric, is not strictly perceptional. The damage we continue to do to our planet, the feeling that we can’t talk to our neighbors anymore. Political movements that threaten to unwind generations of good work and throw us back into a darker and more restrictive time. It’s okay to be scared.

But now is the time to let that fear be the fire that won’t stand for less. We won’t condone “at least it’s not getting worse” as an operating philosophy. We are better than this. It’s time to showcase just how hungry our larger American spirit is for progress.

The personal objectives of the few to deprioritize the struggle, to strike it from our collective history and our classrooms and our ballot boxes — can only prevail if we let them. The time is now to stand up. We can’t afford to give up on closing the gap.