LaborTalk for September 20, 2011

One of Six Americans Lives in a State of Poverty;
The Gap Between Rich and Poor Grows Wider

By Harry Kelber

There is a significant and growing gap between the rich and the poor in the United States; yet neither the government, the media or the American people are sufficiently aroused to do something about it. Or even discuss it.

Here are a few facts to remind us how our society is treating the poor and the wealthy:

• Last year, more Americans fell into deep poverty, defined as less than half the official poverty line, or about $11,000, with the ranks of that group increasing to 20.5 million, or about 6.7 percent of the population.

• In contrast, corporate CEOs in 2010 received, on average, $11.4 million in total compensation — a 23 percent increase in one year.

• The Bush tax cuts went into effect in 2003 and mostly benefited the top two percent of the population, who had incomes of more than $150,000 a year. They were designed to be temporary, but they still provide the rich with millions of dollars each year without spurring the job growth they were supposed to. Many profitable corporations pay no federal taxes at all.

• Meanwhile, wages have remained stagnant or have declined, while the purchasing power of the dollar is less than it was two decades ago. Retirees have been denied the annual cost of living increase, which they had received for decades.

• While some 26 million people are desperately in need of a job, U.S. corporations held a record $1.93 trillion in cash on their balance sheets in 2010, but they are not investing in job growth for their companies, according to the Federal Reserve.

• More than one in eight people in the United States lives below the poverty line, which was $21,750 for a family of four in 2009.

• 14.6% of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table. More than 49 million Americans — including 16.7 million children live in these households. Nearly 50 million people have no health insurance.

There are many injustices that have to be rectified before we can claim to be the greatest democracy on earth.

Can We Succeed in Reducing Long-Term Inequality?

Our most important goal is to persuade our government and private industry to provide a decent job and a living wage to the millions of unemployed workers. To the extent we can accomplish this, the economic gap between the rich and poor will shrink considerably.

We must find ways to reduce poverty, especially as it affects millions of children. Special anti-poverty funds can be established and financed by federal, state and local governments, as well as by private philanthropy. The U.S. is still the richest country in the world. We can find the money to guarantee that our children and grandchildren grow up healthy and well-educated, as they face life in the 21st century.

Despite evidence of progress, racial discrimination still exists for African Americans and Latinos, each of whom have special resentments that must be addressed. America must not become a country where millions of people are treated as second-class citizens.

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The United States has a rich past. Every generation has left a legacy that has improved the lives of the next generation. Can we carry on that noble tradition? What is the legacy we will leave to the people who come after us?

LaborTalk will be posted here on September 23, 2011 and on our two web sites www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.

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