In 1962, Michael Harrington's "The Other America" exposed the
nation's dark side, saying:
"In morality and in justice, every citizen should be committed to
abolishing the other America, for it is intolerable that the richest
nation in human history should allow such needless suffering."
"But more than that, if we solve the problem of the other America we
will have learned how to solve the problems of all of America."
Jack Kennedy was concerned enough to ask Walter Heller, his Council
of Economic Advisor chairman, to examine the problem.
In his January 8, 1964 State of the Union address, poverty levels
also got Lyndon Johnson to say his administration "today, here and
now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America."
In fact, he barely scratched it. However, he got Congress to enact
measures helping America's poor.
Inequality then was severe. Today, it's unprecedented and growing.
Wealthy elites are richer than ever. Census data show around half of
US households impoverished or bordering on it.
In fact, government data consistently over-estimate good news and
understate the bad. As a result, unprecedented numbers of US
households are impoverished under protracted Main Street Depression
Political Washington's austerity harshness causes greater harm.
Shocking bipartisan indifference to human need and suffering is
In the world's richest ever country, poverty is highest among
industrialized nations. Homelessness and hunger levels are
unprecedented. Over 20% of US families haven't enough money to buy
food and need help.
Over half of US children need food stamps to eat. Tens of millions
have no health insurance. Those with it pay double the cost in other
developed nations. Policies enacted under Obama assure tougher times
Unemployment approaches record highs. Manipulated government data
hide it. Those employed work longer for less. Home foreclosures and
bankruptcies affect millions. Adjusted for inflation, median
income's no higher than in the 1970s.
In their book titled, "Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made
the Rich Richer," Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson explained how
unprecedented wealth transfers to America's rich destroyed middle
class households. It also deepened poverty and created a permanent
Last September, Forbes magazine's annual report on America's richest
400 showed net worth soaring to over $1.5 trillion, up 12% from
2010. At the same time, poverty and human need spiral higher.
Studies Show Shocking US Inequality
Last November, The New York Times headlined, "Middle-Class Areas
Shrink as Income Gap Grows, New Report Shows," saying:
A Stanford University study titled, "Growth in the Residential
Segregation of Families by Income, 1970 - 2009," said households
living in middle income areas declined sharply since 1970. Rising
income inequality left once better off ones mostly low-income or
In fact, data through 2007 were examined before today's economic
crisis began. Conditions now are much worse. Study author Sean
Reardon said income shifts have far-reaching implications for future
generations if present trends continue. Children are especially
disadvantaged without access to good schools, preschool, child care,
and support networks.
Former solid middle class areas are now low-income or poor. Income
differences have profound effects. One example shows up on
standardized test scores. The differential between rich and poor
children is 40% greater than in 1970.
Moreover, the gap between rich and poor college completion (a key
predictor of future success) is 50% greater than the 1990s. Over
half of children from higher income families finish college compared
to less than 10% of those in lower income households.
According to Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson:
"Rising inequality" produces a "two-tiered society....in which the
more affluent citizens live lives fundamentally different from
middle and lower-income groups. This divide decreases a sense of
In October 2011, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published
after-tax income data from 1979 - 2007, saying it grew:
275% for the top 1%;
65% for the next 19%;
less than 40% for next 60%; and
just 18% for the bottom 20%.
Data were adjusted for household size differentials. However,
inflation adjusted measures weren't provided. They show far greater
differences between rich and poor. According to Professor Paul
Buchheit, America's top 1% tripled their after-tax income from 1980
- 2006, while the bottom 90% saw theirs drop over 20%.
"(O)ur economy," he said, "allows a tiny percentage of us to take an
inordinate amount of money from society, at an increasing rate."
According to economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, America's
income inequality was the highest in recorded history in 2007 before
the current crisis began, and Census data way understate it.
One Dollar for Life/economics public school teacher Robert Freeman
said "(b)etween 2002 and 2006, (an) astounding three-quarters of the
economy's growth was captured by the top 1%."
In his January 2010 Common Dreams article, he said it had "70% of
all financial assets," a record high. Moreover, the bottom 40% own
nothing and have a combined zero net worth.
In December 2011, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported
on income differentials from 1996 - 2006, saying inflation adjusted
it grew 25%. However, averages obscure variations. America's poorest
20% saw income levels fall 6%, and if measured since 1979, it would
have been much greater.
In contrast, top 1% earners saw incomes double from 1996 - 2006.
Middle income ones experienced a 10% increase. In addition, income
inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient increased 9% before
taxes and 11% after-tax.
Capital gains and dividends most advantage richer Americans. Overall
taxes in 2006 were less progressive than in 1996. Today, extremes
A 2011 Michael Norton/Dan Ariely study titled, "Building a Better
America - One Wealth Quintile at a Time," showed most Americans
vastly underestimate today's wealth disparities.
They believe the richest 20% control about 59% of the nation's
wealth. It's about 84%, say the study authors. It fact, it's over
90%, perhaps well over.
A January 2012 Indiana University/School of Public and Environmental
Affairs study titled, "At Risk: America's Poor During and After the
Great Recession" discussed enormous growing problems facing the
nation's least advantaged.
Protracted economic weakness "inflicted long-lasting damage to
individuals, families, and communities," it said. It created a "near
poor" and "new poor" underclass.
Long-term unemployment contributes greatly. Over four million
Americans say they've been out of work over a year, the largest
number since data collection began in 1948.
From 2006 - 2010, impoverished households increased 27% and keep
rising. Young people and minorities between 18 and 34 have been
hardest hit. Safety net protections are inadequate and eroding. Hard
times getting harder affect greater numbers of people.
A Final Comment
Wrongheaded policies assure growing misery while America's rich
never had it so good.
That's the dilemma voters face in an election year when neither
party offers solutions. Instead, they assure growing wealth
disparity, greater poverty, and human misery.
Only grassroots activism can change things. OWS protests show
promise. Nothing will happen easily or quickly.
The mother of all social justice struggles continues. It better
because growing inequality and human need are too intolerable to
Organized people power works. Using it can beat organized money. If
that's not incentive enough, what is?
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to
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