By Charlie Williams
The income gap in America is still growing and nothing serious is being done in Congress to slow the widening gap, much less reverse it. According to a Dec. 15, Associated Press article by Hope Yen, nearly 1 in 2 have fallen into poverty or are just scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income as census data depicts a middle class that’s shrinking as unemployment stays high and government safety nets fray.
For the past 30 years workers' wages have stagnated, and with the current high unemployment rates and the current anti-worker led Congress, raising wages and benefits is near impossible to achieve these days. The wealthy on the other hand continue to do very well with the top 1 percent increasing their wealth by 48 percent since 1983 while the average wealth for median households decreased by 14 percent according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The ratio of average CEO compensation to the average of that of a typical worker rose from 35 to 1 in 1978 to 343 to 1 by 2010. Hardly any indicator of the shrinking of the wealth gap to be found in these figures. Further indications of gap widening can be found in yet another Economic Policy Institute study which shows income growth from 1979 to 2007 increased by 224 percent for the top 1 percent of households while the bottom 90 percent had only a 5 percent increase in income growth.
Even Pope Benedict XVI has got into the wealth gap discussion. In his 2011 Peace Message he calls for wealth distribution, noting a rising sense of frustration at the worldwide recession. The Pope said that a more just and peaceful world requires “adequate mechanisms for redistribution of wealth." Commenting further, the Pope pointed out that peace-making requires education not only in the values of compassion and solidarity, but in the importance of wealth redistribution emphasizing attention to the portion of growth, cooperation of development and conflict resolution. All of which we see far too little of in the halls of Congress today.
Poverty here in the San Diego area is also a big concern according to a recent study done by the Center on Policy Initiatives published Sept. 22. The study points to their 2010 findings that San Diego County is much like the rest of the country, still reeling from the great recession. Poverty continues to grow even for many fulltime job holders. San Diego County’s poverty rate rose to 14.8 percent from 11.1 percent in pre-recession 2007. The report points out that there were 446,060 people in the county living in poverty in the 2010 census, 72,401 more than the previous year and that the city of San Diego has a 17.4 percent poverty rate. These figures are even more seriously threatening when you take in consideration that 527,303 of our county residents have no health insurance most of who must rely on costly taxpayer funded emergency care.
While it's true that there are some 1.9 million fewer jobs now than when President Obama took office, the president inherited an economic free fall and can’t realistically be held responsible for job loss the first few months after taking office. During the eight years George W. Bush was president fewer than 2 million jobs were created while the economy lost 3.1 million jobs from January to June 2009 as a result of his policies. Some 750,000 of those jobs were lost in the very first month President Obama first took office. Job gains have been improving though slowly since June 2009 and new hiring has taken a serious rebound these past few months and continued job growth is predicted for the foreseeable future.
So far the Republican candidates for president don’t seem to have an answer for keeping the economy moving forward. Most have called for cutting and even eliminating safety net programs, calling for doing away with Social Security and Medicare as we have come to know it through lobbyists' inspired privatization schemes. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tax plan would actually increase taxes on the working poor according to the Tax Policy Center while those earning $1 million a year would receive yet another tax cut of 15 percent or roughly an additional $146,000 annually.
The widening gap between the poor, middle class, and the wealthy will certainly be on the ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 6, in the form of electing members of Congress and the selection of the presidential candidate we want to lead us for the next four years. Many voters will face newly enacted hurdles just to exercise their right to vote this coming November. Many Republican governors are openly attacking our right to vote, demanding voters provide uncalled for photo identifications that millions of otherwise eligible voters will have serious difficulty in providing.
Voters will in the end decide what path they want this country to take on Tuesday, Nov. 6. My bet is there will be a great shake-up in Congress and President Obama will be the clear choice for a vast majority of voters even where obstacles are placed in front of them by unscrupulous governors and state lawmakers, desperately trying to deny them their sacred right to vote. Any other outcome will in my opinion greatly increase the continuing widening of the income gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the other 99 percent all to be paid for by middle income taxpayers.
For many years we have been and are currently being exposed to “trickle down economics” which never worked but which have contributed immensely to our past and present economic woes. Will we fall for certain politicians' insistence that Congress give even more tax breaks to the wealthy so they can allegedly give workers good paying jobs and are the only answer to restoring our country’s economic wellbeing? We tried that with the big banks and giant corporations at the end of the Bush years, which indeed led to record earnings and profits while the rest of us prospered little if any. All the while millions of others lost most everything they owned including their only means of income and the house or home they lived in. Will we go back to electing a trickle down economics president in 2012? I hope and pray we have learned from history that trickle down economics only serve to feed the wealth gap and we don‘t get fooled again.
Charlie Williams is chairman of the Field Mobilization Committee for the Alliance for Retired Americans and former Midwest States Political Director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers AFL-CIO.