American Inequality is Still Surging Along, Now is the Time to Finally Address It.

by on October 7, 2019 · 3 comments

in Economy, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

Back in June I noted in this space that despite the mainstream media chorus about our “good economy” things weren’t so great for the average American worker when –

“4 in 10 Americans couldn’t put together $400 in cash to meet an emergency expense, 6 in 10 couldn’t meet 3 months of expenses if they lost their jobs, only 36% of workers are on track with their retirement savings, and a quarter of Americans have skipped some kind of medical treatment in the past year because of finances.”

Unfortunately, the basic reality is that 80% of American workers are living from paycheck to paycheck and most of them can’t really afford college, childcare, housing, or healthcare.

And now comes the news, lost in the impeachment circus, that income inequality is at the highest rate we’ve seen in decades.   As the Washington Post reported :

Income inequality in the United States has hit its highest level since the Census Bureau started tracking it more than five decades ago, according to data released Thursday, even as the nation’s poverty and unemployment rates are at historic lows.

The gulf is starkest in wealthy regions along both coasts such as New York, Connecticut, California and Washington, D.C., as well as in areas with widespread poverty, such as Puerto Rico and Louisiana. Equality was highest in Utah, Alaska and Iowa.

And while the nation is in the midst of its longest economic expansion, nine states saw spikes in inequality from 2017 to 2018: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia.

Thus, underneath all the talk about low unemployment and higher incomes for workers lies a less comforting truth.  Even the good news isn’t that good. For instance, the middle class isn’t really gaining much of anything in real terms.  The same Post piece notes that, “Though the gap between the richest and poorest expanded, the nation’s median household income topped $63,000 for the first time. However, after adjusting for inflation, it’s roughly the same as it was 20 years ago.”

Thus, all boats aren’t rising together.

Perhaps that’s why even some of the beneficiaries of America’s soaring income inequality are getting nervous about the hollowing out of the American Dream.  Recently, members of a group called “Patriotic Millionaires” wrote a column for the Guardian decrying the fact that, “Inequality in America is out of control. From 1989 to 2018, the top 1% of Americans increased their cumulative wealth by an astounding $21tn, while the bottom 50% of the country saw their share decrease by $900bn”.

Calling the American system “fundamentally broken” and “hijacked by the ultra-wealthy,” these members of the 1% admirably admit that their success was part of a collective effort that provided roads to opportunity that are now not available for many of us:

Neither of us succeeded on our own. Our business benefited immensely from our country’s and state’s infrastructure, which we did not create. For example, we had the advantage of an affordable and outstanding public education system at the University of Utah, and of a complex and thorough system of laws and rules that we learned to successfully navigate . . .

Today, for much of our country, there are more barriers blocking opportunity than there are pathways leading to it. The tax cuts passed by Congress in December 2017 accelerated the concentration of wealth at the very top, at the expense of our rapidly deteriorating institutions and infrastructure that once allowed Americans to climb the ladder of opportunity.

As a result of this, this group of millionaires is calling for more taxes on the rich to fund infrastructure and public programs as well as a higher minimum wage that provides a dignified living for all workers.

Such a declaration by folks in the business elite following in the footsteps of the statement put out by hundreds of American CEO’s calling for more collective responsibility is remarkable.  It is evidence, perhaps, that reasonable people at the top of the economic ladder see the deep dangers of soaring inequality for our economy and society.

One might reasonably be skeptical too, knowing that calling for giving up a little might be inoculation against political appeals for much bolder systemic change.

In any event, looking at the national political landscape, it is fair to ask why, given the opening that exists at present, progressives would hesitate to seize the moment and finally put forth a presidential candidate like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren who are offering proposals that address the corrosive effects of economic inequality head-on rather than sticking to stale neoliberal pablum and weak half-measures.

Now is the time to start talking about big structural changes before we are left wondering how our democracy slid into entrenched oligarchy.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris October 7, 2019 at 2:31 pm

While there is no doubt about growing income inequality (I know it’s only a matter of time I will be pushed out), I really find the whole “we are the 99%” kind of cliché and meaningless. Considering the 99% percent are about 50% divided and only getting more so, it makes the term kind of a non starter.


retired botanist October 7, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Uh, yeah, let’s go for the “bolder…big structural changes”. Its so long overdue. The only candidate who sees, and grasps, the crux of the problem is Warren. The redistribution of wealth globally is the answer to virtually everything. If the U.S. really wants to be a global leader, this is where it starts. Not fiddly, complicated little changes to the tax system, not a shared private and universal health care- we need to get rid of private insurers- they are bankrupting the middle (such as what’s left of it) and lower echelons, we need to bust up the big monopolies that have re-emerged and taken over the country and its economics.
Vote Warren if you want to see meaningful change. Otherwise, its more of the same dressed up as “something different”.


sealintheSelkirks October 10, 2019 at 3:04 pm

editor: if this double posts I apologize. My dial-up disconnected when I hit submit. Please delete one. Thanks.

retired botanist:

Which wealthy Robber Baron was it that said something like (paraphrasing): ‘I can always hire one half of the peasants to kill the other half.’ Or something to that effect, anyway.

I’m looking around watching/reading/listening (no I don’t watch tv) and unfortunately thinking not much seems to have changed since the wealthy scum said that…except increasingly lethal weaponry and tactics with all forms of social control (war etc) both by the State and individuals.

Here’s a question: So if the latter, those individuals, are considered deranged what does that say about the former? Behavior is behavior, yes? And institutional violence is far more lethal than individuals. I mean, can one really compare a Hellfire missile on a wedding party out of the clear blue sky to a guy with an AR-15 at Walmart? Or…maybe one CAN compare the two, eh? Both are examples of human politics…

And it is already starting to get politically interesting-in that Chinese curse kind of way. From Moorhead, Minnesota comes Political Theatre 2020. Read this and weep:

As for Warren, I have some…reservations. And yes I have reservations with Sanders, too, but I think he would be the better choice since Warren has been co-opting his platform lately. After all, she was a Reagan Republican right through the 90s and he stayed true to form for decades. Read these two and think about their differences:

Why Warren Can’t Win

The Jack Lew Problem

At this point I think the two of them should combine, her as VP or head of the SEC, him as Prez especially since he would have won in 2016 without the corruption cheating scandal of the DNC. Maybe she would pick up even more of what he’s been saying for decades, educate herself a bit more in-depth to his social policies (they are much like FDR). That was the mistake FDR made, he let the bankers get rid of VP Henry Wallace. The wealthy Robber Barons won.

But as I said, I still have reservations because neither of them are talking about dismantling the Military/Industrial/Congressional/Prison Complex. Not much is going to truly change if the corporate profit war machine continues. Martin Luther King was correct about that being all tied together. It is the BIG elephant in the room stomping on everything and everybody…

Off-topic, but since you’ve shown interest before. The satellite map should worry you as much as it does me you being the marine biologist:

It was very bad over on the coast last time, in Puget and the outside ocean. Sea life died, all kinds, birds, up the food chain over the entire North Coast into Alaska. Another hammer slams the ocean…

It didn’t snow over here last time in 2014. Literally didn’t snow. The snowboarding season…wasn’t. I never went up once on my season pass, and my local hill opened with 5″ of snow at the lodge…6 weeks later they closed with zero. Far too dangerous icy crap. It was about the 30 days being open limit so the owners wouldn’t have to refund or roll-over season passes…



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