I don’t have a Top 10 list for 2014, or any resolutions for the year ahead, but I would like to take this opportunity as our planet completes its rotation around the sun to highlight two broad and important societal trends that have come into focus over the past 12 months.

In the simplest terms, the year we just experienced can be defined by an increase in social equality and, at the same time, a seemingly contradictory decrease in economic equality. We saw more fairness even as we witnessed increasing disparity.

First, the good news: In 2014, Americans continued our difficult climb toward greater justice on issues related to gender, race and sexual orientation.

It may seem sometimes like we are going backward, but that’s mainly because public attention is finally being paid to some of the most intransigent problems in our society.

Michael Brown and Eric Garner aren’t the first unarmed black men to be killed by police officers, but their deaths are the first to cause such widespread and sustained protests and a broad public discussion on race and violence.

Another tragedy – the misogyny-motivated killings in Isla Vista, California – also prompted a public backlash, and the hashtag #YesAllWomen saw more than 2 million tweets in just two days. Since then, issues of sexism, harassment and violence toward women have been topics of national conversation as they never have before.

In other cases, the progress we are making as a society is even more quantifiable.

The U.S. Congress elected this year will include 100 women, a new record high.

As of October, a majority of Americans now live in states where same-sex marriage is legal. The drumbeat of victories for marriage equality, both at the ballot box and in the courts, has quickened, and an upheaval is well underway in public opinion. The legal victories have set the groundwork for a Supreme Court decision that could soon make same-sex marriage legal throughout the country.

Gains in social equality are often incremental, and can seem fleeting and fragile, but taken together and over time, our progress toward a better, more fair society is clear.

Now, the bad news: Even as America has become more equal in some ways, it has become radically less so in others.

This year, for the first time since the 1930s, the amount of wealth owned by the richest 0.1 percent of Americans equaled that of the bottom 90 percent of Americans, according to research by professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of, respectively, the University of California at Berkeley and the London School of Economics.

This disparity in income and wealth has been increasing and accelerating for the past four decades, and the Great Recession hasn’t helped. While the wealthiest few have now regained and surpassed their losses from the economic crash (which the Wall Street tycoons among them helped cause), the middle class and poor haven’t fared nearly as well, seeing a continued aggregate decline.

Even higher education, which long provided the best chance for economic mobility, now comes with a lifetime sentence of debt.

The poorest have been hardest hit, as the small amounts of public assistance governments provide have been cut and the pathways out of poverty have been systematically narrowed. Maine under Gov. LePage is a sad example of this trend; more of those who have been cut off from assistance so far have become homeless than have found work, and another 6,500 Mainers will lose access to food stamps Jan. 1.

The year has also seen an increase in corporate power.

In June, the Supreme Court even decided that corporations can have religious beliefs, and can use them to get around health care laws.

Just this month, the spending bill passed by Congress included a provision written by lobbyists for Citigroup that eliminate regulations providing oversight of financial institutions trading high-risk financial instruments known as credit default swaps. This gutted a key piece of the Wall Street reform legislation passed in 2010, which was meant to safeguard against another crash.

Even as we confront some of our nation’s most pernicious social problems – racism, sexism, homophobia and intolerance – we are creating new disparity based on class. There is now massive inequality in wealth, power and opportunity in America on a scale that hasn’t been seen since the 1920s.

As the new year approaches, it may bring with it a new gilded age.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping

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