Overcoming Wealth Disparity in the US: Congress, the Rich, and The Growing Rate of Poverty

Whether we consider ourselves liberals or conservatives, I think it is a safe assumption that most of us agree that life in America is becoming increasingly more expensive and that the “American Dream” is becoming ever more elusive. We are being paid less while being expected to work longer and harder hours, while the costs of food, gas, housing, education, retirement plans, health care, utilities, clothing, transportation, and other items on which we have come to rely are growing ever more expensive. Meanwhile, the richest Americans continue to see their incomes and their wealth grow; for example, 10 of the highest paid CEOs earn as much in one hour as the average American worker earns in one year. Yet, it is we, the working-class (both middle and poor) who are being expected to “sacrifice” for the nation by allowing for Congress to cut our social programs, the programs for which our tax dollars pay, in order to provide tax cuts and other subsidies to the extremely rich and the corporations, most of whom pay little to no taxes at all. How is this happening?

Part of the problem is our own government. They are, for the most part, the rich and always have been. However, prior to 1855, the year in which Congress members began to receive a yearly salary, they were paid a daily rate of $6.00 and were only paid for days in which they were actually in session. Now, they make more than the average working-class American. According to the 2009 US Census Bureau report, the median household income in 2009 was about $49,000 (not much considering the cost of living), a decline of 4.2% from 2007. Meanwhile, Congress is earning $174,000 annually , with the highest ranking members earning between $193,400 and $223,500 a year, and this is in addition to their personal wealth (browse all lawmakers here).; for example, John Boehner (speaker of the House) reported a net worth of between $2 and $6 million in tax year 2010, and Senator John Kerry has a minimum net worth of nearly $200 million. Why are we paying these people so much money when they do so little  for us? Why are they, when they possess so much individual wealth, not sacrificing their own pay to help the nation? Although, this certainly explains why they refuse to raise taxes on the rich…because they are the rich.

As long as our government is comprised of people who bring in millions, and in some cases hundreds of millions,  of dollars a year, we the people will never be treated as we should be treated.  As long as the rich run the government, both as members of it and as campaign financiers who essentially own Congress, we will continue to be marginalized. As long as we the people continue to act as if we believe that we are worth less than a living wage and that the CEOs of big business are worth millions or billions, we will continue to see the poverty rate in America climb; as of 2009 it was 14.3%, the third consecutive annual increase (US Census Bureau Report, page 14). As long as we continue to fall for the lie that tax increases on the rich will prevent job creation, when in fact the rich tend to pocket it or spend it on themselves rather than invest it on job creation, we will see no change in the economy. As long as we continue to ignore the fact that the Bush tax cuts have been in effect for a decade and we have not only seen very little job growth, we have also lost millions of jobs, we will see no growth; despite the claims of John Boehner and others in the GOP, the unemployment rate has barely improved as the tax cuts for the rich have been maintained (presently the measurable rate is 9.1%).

Currently, we are experiencing disparities in wealth distribution not seen in this country since before the Great Depression. As per a study by Emmanuel Saez, Professor of Economics at UC Berkely, as of 2007 the top earners have managed to take in about 49.7% of  all wages earned in the US, capturing two-thirds of income growth from 2002-2007 while the bottom 99% of earners saw an annual increase of only 1.3% in the same period. This is not how to grow an economy, this is how you spread poverty.

If we the people are serious about reigning in the debt, we absolutely must grow the economy. This will only happen if we raise taxes on the rich and end various other subsidies and tax breaks, reduce spending in areas that do not create US jobs (such as the DOD, much of its job creation as occurred off-shore as most of its contractors use non-US labor), increase government investments in areas that do create jobs (health care, education, research, infrastructure, etc.), end NAFTA and the WTO (both of which have cost us about 5.3 million jobs) and replace them with fair trade agreements, and raise minimum wage to a living wage.  By creating jobs and paying the working classes more for their labor we will improve the over all quality of living for millions of hard-working Americans by giving them a disposable income (what remains after basic necessities have been covered). This is how you grow an economy: allow the government to invest to create jobs, increase wages for the working classes, both of which in turn leads to an increase in personal spending; this in turn increases demand, which then leads to an increase in supply, and thus more job creation; all of which leads to an increase in tax revenue, which in turn helps the nation address its debt.

According to just about everyone in Congress, we are all in this together. However, if they truly believe that, and if they expect we the people to believe that, then it is time for Congress to stop favoring themselves and their even wealthier backers, and start working for the people of, by, and for whom this country was founded. If not, then it is up to us to reclaim our country from the rich by turning our backs on the present members of the government (Congress and the White House), abandon the two-party system for a more egalitarian multi-party PR system, and vote in people who will work for us rather than against us. Ultimately it is up to we the people to make certain that government works for us because if left to their own devices they will only continue to pass legislation that benefits their own.

© Karen Lyn and Take Back America, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn, author post authors as listed on this blog, and Take Back America with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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