Tag Archives: economic inequality

One Step Away From Disaster

The tragic events unfolding in Texas are another example of how close most Americans are to disaster. According to reports, Texas officials knew winter storms could leave the state’s power grid vulnerable. Still, they left the choice to prepare for harsh weather up to the power companies — many of which opted against the costly upgrades. That, plus a deregulated energy market largely isolated from the rest of the country’s power grid, left the state alone to deal with the crisis.  As always, the decisions that led to the failure of the Texas grid came down to money.  Money that the wealthy pocketed at the expense of their constituents and consumer’s well-being.  Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly in America, where a tiny percentage of wealthy control the vast majority of income and routinely make decisions to increase that wealth with no regard to the needs of the many or the well-being of the planet itself.

I’ve spent most of my adult life working with NYC’s neediest population, the last nine years exclusively with the homeless population. Every day I see hard-working men and women, many with multiple jobs who, after 16 hour days, have to go home to a shelter because the cost of living far outweighs the wages they are paid. All of this, while a tiny segment of society controls most of the wealth, ensures Congress continues to give them tax breaks, and live in luxury off their employees’ sweat. The COVID 19 pandemic is a perfect example. Big corporations got bailed out, Millionaires and Billionaires got wealthier, and most Americans were told here’s 600 dollars make that work. It is disgraceful, and America must address its income inequality issues and stop with the pull yourself up by the bootstraps; we’re not a socialist country mantra and recognize that no nation can prosper forever when the majority of its citizens are one paycheck away from disaster

The Desert of the Real. Morpheus breaks down American Democracy

Morpheus: This is our country Neo, everyone treated the same regardless of the color of their skin, gender, ethnic make-up, or religious belief. Individuals judged purely on the content of their character. Everyone has health care, and parents send their children to school unafraid they may become infected with the coronavirus or the victim of a mass shooting. Political leaders tell the truth and put the citizens’ well-being ahead of their agendas; corruption at the highest government levels is unheard of. There is no social or racial injustice. People walk down the street unafraid that they may be wrongfully targeted simply because of their skin color. Everyone is afforded the same opportunities regardless of their social, ethnic, or economic background. It seems too perfect, doesn’t it, Neo? You know something is not right, don’t you, Neo? You can feel it.

Neo: We’re living an illusion?

Morpheus: Yes!

Neo: But why?

Morpheus: Is it so hard really to believe? Our democracy was designed to be where the power comes from the people, not a ruler or group of powerful individuals who would do whatever they want. It was founded on the belief that these truths are self-evident; all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Yet all that has always been an illusion, hasn’t it.

Neo: Are you saying our democracy has never been real?

Morpheus: What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about the people being the source of power or that all men are created equal, then real is simply a bunch of words written on a piece of paper. That America only exists in a series of oft-cited but rarely enacted words. A constitution to be held up to the rest of the world symbolizes the moral high ground we supposedly occupy. That America doesn’t exist, you’ve been living in a dream world, Neo.

This is the country as it exists today. Corruption at government’s highest levels. Blatant disregard for the constitution. The well-being and health of Americans were sacrificed for political gain. Racism and bigotry are alive and well and used by leaders to divide and conquer. Economic and social injustice roadblocks impede the pursuit of happiness for many. The few control the narrative and dictate policy to maintain their power and enrich their bank accounts—millions of citizens living in poverty and millions more without health insurance. Children forced to go to bed hungry, funding for education always under siege…. Welcome to the Desert of the Real Neo. Having seen all of this, I have come to realize the obviousness of the truth. Control. Democracy today is control, an illusion propagated by those in power to control the masses.

Neo: No. I don’t believe it. It’s not possible.

Morpheus: I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.

An idea fifty years in the making that needs to be acted on now…The Poor People’s Campaign

One of the biggest tricks the Trump administration has been able to pull off is pointing to rises in the stock market as evidence that he, at least before COVID-19, created the greatest economy in the history of this country, while it has been great for the Jeff Bezos of the world, the reality is that it couldn’t be further from the truth for the vast majority of Americans. A few telling statistics:

  • In 1980, the 90/10 ratio in the U.S. stood at 9.1, meaning that households at the top had incomes about nine times the incomes of households at the bottom. The ratio increased in every decade since 1980, reaching 12.6 in 2018, an increase of 39%.14. Not only is income inequality rising in the U.S., it is higher than in other advanced economies.
  • The most widely used measure to track homelessness is HUD’s Point in Time (PIT)count, which identified 567,715 homeless people on a single night in January 2019. About 63% of individuals counted were sheltered, and 37% were unsheltered. There are many indications that the actual number of homeless people is much higher. The National Coalition for the Homeless points out that the PIT count largely misses recently homeless individuals staying in supportive housing, paid for with federal and local homelessness funds. In 2017, this population added up to 503,473, pushing the total number of homeless people in the U.S. above 1 million.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. In 2018, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, equating to over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children.
  • Among Americans born in the late 1980s, only 44% were in jobs with higher socioeconomic status than their parents when both were age 30. At the same time, 49% had lower status positions, according to Hout, who published a study on millennials in the 2019 Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality Pathways Magazine.
  • Medical bills were the most significant cause of U.S. bankruptcies. A new study from academic researchers found that 66.5 percent of all bankruptcies were tied to medical issues —either because of high costs for care or time out of work. An estimated 530,000 families turn to bankruptcy each year because of medical problems and bills.

In December 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. announced a plan to bring together poor people from across the country for a new march on Washington. This march was to demand better jobs, better homes, better education—better lives than the ones they were living. Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy explained that the intention of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 was to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”

In August of 2020, magnified by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, we are still dealing with many of the same issues that Dr. King addressed with his Poor People’s Campaign. Today our President uses misinformation and lies to convince the masses they are doing better than they are. He devises speeches to tap into the fears and subconscious racism embedded in each of us to keep the masses divided rather than united. Pointing fingers at each other for any economic troubles they encounter, rather than banding together and demanding that economic policies be devised that help not just the wealthy and large corporations but the masses as well. Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson articulated how effective Trump’s game plan could be when he said:

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

A popular saying for many in the Trump base is that we’re losing our America. But the truth is it was never, for most of them anyway, “their” America. The America they claim they are losing was and has always been the America of the rich white man. Access to the best schools and quality health care. The ability to “legally” manipulate the tax system to shelter money from the ever-increasing taxes they pay. They are consistently increasing their bottom lines at the expense of the average American.

Now let’s be clear here and misunderstand what I am saying. Not every wealthy white man acts this way or that they are inherently evil or solely responsible for many of the ills that the average working American, regardless of color or gender, face on an everyday basis. I am saying that there are a select few who have always had the money and the power to control the narrative. To keep the masses at each other throats, fighting for the scraps thrown their way.

It is incredible how often the poorest of the poor will vote against their self-interest because they have been led to believe it is in their best interest to ensure the wealthy’s well-being. Ensure their well-being because they are told that if they do, one day they will drink from that same prosperous cup as the wealthy. The concept that they are more like that person they have been conditioned to hate than to the wealthy who promote the narrative they feed into is foreign to them.

The truth is Dr. King had it right in 1967, and if he had lived to see his campaign through, he would have been seen as more of a threat to the “establishment’s” way of life than anything he accomplished during the civil rights movement. There is power in numbers and unity. Suppose most Americans put aside their hatred of each other, embraced their similarities, and united in the fight against inequality. In that case, there is no telling what this country could accomplish in eradicating economic inequality—a country with affordable and quality health care and education for all. Wage equality and a tax system that treated the 99% the same as the 1% and maybe as a byproduct of coming together to fight the inequalities we all face, we’ll gain a better understanding of each other. Now that’s a dream worth fighting for.