PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
We live in a society that allows one man to make $15 million a day while a low-income mother gets $4.50 a day for food, and much of Congress wants to cut the $4.50.
Are political and corporate leaders even remotely aware of the conditions of society beneath the wealthiest 10% or so?
The following are some of the victims of an economic system that has forgotten the majority of its people.
One out of every five American children now lives in poverty, and for black children it's nearly one out of TWO. Almost half of food stamp recipients are children.
UNICEF places us near the bottom of the developed world in the inequality of children's well-being, and the OECD found that we have more child poverty than all but 3 of 30 developed countries. It's rather embarrassing to view the charts.
Over the last 12 years, according to a New York Times report, the United States has gone from having the highest share of employed 25- to 34-year-olds among large, wealthy economies to having among the lowest. The number of college grads working for minimum wage has doubled in just five years.
Higher education was cut by nearly $17 billion in the years leading up to 2012-13. Through those same years large corporations were avoiding about $14 billion annually in taxes. To make up the difference, students face tuition costs that have risen almost ten times faster than median family income, leading them into their low-wage post-college positions with an average of $26,000 in student loan debt.
Three-quarters of Americans approaching retirement in 2010 had an average of less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. The percentage of elderly (75 to 84) Americans experiencing poverty for the first time doubled from 2005 to 2009.
The folly of cutting Social Security is reflected in two facts. First, even though Social Security provides only an average benefit of $15,000, it accounts for 55 percent of annual income for the elderly. And second, seniors have spent their working lives paying for their retirement. According to the Urban Institute the average two-earner couple making average wages throughout their lifetimes will receive less in Social Security benefits than they paid in. Same for single males. Almost the same for single females.
Workers have 30% LESS buying power today than in 1968. If the minimum wage had kept up with employee productivity, it would be $16.54 per hour instead of $7.25.
Almost unimaginably, conditions for workers have gotten even worse since the recession. While 21 percent of job losses since 2008 were considered low-wage positions, 58 percent of jobs added during the recovery were considered low-wage.
As for members of Congress who say "get a job," only one of them was present at the start of a recent unemployment hearing.
The Sick and Disabled
Over 200 recent studies have confirmed a link between financial stress and sickness. In just 20 years America's ranking among developed countries dropped on nearly every major health measure. Victims suffer both physically and mentally. A recent study found that unemployment, whether voluntary or involuntary, can significantly impact a person's mental health. Even grimmer, from 1999 to 2010 the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 increased by almost 30 percent.
In the long run, the only Americans to increase their life expectancy have been seniors covered by Medicare.
Recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that women earn just 80% of men's pay. In Washington, DC and California, Hispanic women make only 44 cents for every dollar made by white men. The only deviation from the norm is that in 47 of 50 large metropolitan areas, well-educated single childless women under 30 earn more than their male counterparts.
But the overall disparities have worsened since the recession, with only about one-fifth of new jobs going to women, and with median wealth for single black and Hispanic women falling to a little over $100. And there's no respite with advancing age. The average American woman's retirement account is 38 percent less than a man's, and women over 65 have twice the poverty rate of men.
The Economist states: Before the 1960s...most blacks were poor, few served in public office and almost none were to be found flourishing at the nation's top universities, corporations, law firms and banks. None of that is true today.
Wrong. Much of that is true today. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), median wealth for black families in 2009 was $2,200, compared to $97,900 for white families. (Pew Research reported $5,677 for blacks, $113,149 for whites). EPI said median financial wealth (stocks, etc.) was $200 for blacks, compared to $36,100 for whites.
Since the recession, black and Hispanic wealth has dropped further, by 30 to 40 percent, while white family wealth dropped 11 percent.
Blacks and Hispanics, with 29% of the population, are also severely under-represented on corporate boards and in higher education.
One of the reasons it's so hard for young blacks to be successful is that they're viewed as criminals by many white authority figures. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander documents the explosion of the prison population for drug offenses, with blacks and Hispanics the main targets even though they use drugs at about the same -- or lesser -- rate as white Americans.
The super-rich want homeless people to get jobs. But they don't want to pay taxes to support job creation. If the richest Americans - the Forbes 400 - had paid a 5% tax on their 2012 investment earnings, enough revenue would have been generated to provide a full-time minimum wage job for every person who was homeless in America on a January night in 2012.
Instead, it keeps getting worse for the homeless. North Carolina made it a crime to feed them. Columbia, South Carolina approved a plan to remove them. Tampa, Florida passed a law that makes it a crime for them to sleep in public.
So who's left after all this? Oh yes, rich white men.
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, a writer for progressive publications, and the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org).