If the greatness of a nation is measured by how it treats its poor
rather than its military expenditure, America must rank near the bottom of the
heap. The disparity between rich and poor has never been greater and it is widening
at an accelerating pace.
Some pertinent statistics vividly tell the story:
Of the world’s 100 largest economic entities, 51 are corporations
and 49 are nations.
The world’s top 200 corporations account for over a quarter of the
economic activity on the globe while employing less than 1% of its workforce.
The assets of the world’s 358 billionaires exceed the combined annual
incomes of countries with 45% of the world’s people.
The richest 1% of Americans own 40% of the nation’s household wealth.
The average CEO in the U.S. made 42 times the average worker’s pay
in 1980, 85 times in 1990 and 531 times in 2000.
The corporate share of taxes paid has fallen from 33% in the 1940’s
to 15% in the 1990’s. Individuals’ share of taxes has risen from
44 to 73%.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) effectively gives veto power to corporations
over our U.S. environmental and labor laws.
The first minimum wage was established in 1938. On September 1, 1996 the current
$5.15/hr. minimum wage was signed into law. There has been no increase in the
minimum wage in over nine years. During that same period of time Congress voted
itself eight pay raises.
Even the paltry minimum wage of $5.15 does not possess its original purchasing
power, as the cost of living has continued to rise. Thus, the minimum wage,
a national disgrace, has its lowest purchasing power in 51 years.
The blatant exploitation of the working poor is occurring against the backdrop
of a Congress that is doling out massive welfare to the world’s largest
and wealthiest corporations and providing tax cuts for the richest Americans,
even as worker pensions vanish after a lifetime of service. But it gets worse.
A worker who earns the minimum wage of $5.15/hr. during the course of a year
earns just $10,700. That is $6,000 below the federal poverty level for a family
of three at $16,600. Sixty-one percent of minimum wage earners are women, many
of them single.
According to Rick Wilson, director of American Friends Service Committee’s
West Virginia Economic Justice Department, the base pay for a congressperson
is $168,500 per year. A single mother earning the minimum wage would have to
work 15.7 years at 40 hours per week to earn the congressperson’s minimum.
Even that measure is misleading. The disparity is far greater than the dire
statistics indicate. There are 435 members in the House of Representatives of
which 123 had at least one million dollar incomes. In 2002, 43% of freshmen
congresspersons had incomes of a million dollars or more and the number is growing
with each election cycle. As Congress continues to resemble the nation’s
economic elite rather than the demographics of their respective districts, the
poor increasingly find themselves among the disenfranchised.
In the wealthiest nation on earth one in five children lives in deep poverty.
It this is not class warfare, I do not know what is
As the working poor sink deeper into the oblivion of the swirling vortex of
social and economic despair, ever more wealth is concentrated among society’s
upper crust. What is Congress doing about it? They have wasted weeks discussing
how to abolish the estate tax, a levy that benefits less than 0.3 percent of
the population—the very wealthiest Americans.
It should be clear by now that the working people have no protection from Congress
and the corporate Plutocracy. During the Clinton presidency, Bill Clinton and
the Congress dismantled the welfare system while giving obscene subsidies to
corporations such as Microsoft, Wal-Mart, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler.
The Republican record is even worse. Can there be any doubt about whose interest
The outlook is likely to worsen for American workers as the economic disparity
gap widens. The minimum wage law is a cruel hoax against the working poor. The
champions of capital, as evidenced in the statistics cited above, do not care
about the poor. America’s vast economic divide is the deliberate result
of policies enacted by both Republicans and Democrats. That is why political
reform is a pipe dream. The workers have no one representing them in government.
The minimum wage must be abolished and replaced by a living wage. In the wealthiest
nation on earth there is no excuse why every worker should not earn a decent
living by working forty hours or less per week with full benefits and guaranteed
pensions upon retirement. Ultimately, the wage system must be abolished and
the ownership of production given to the workers—those who produce all
of the wealth.
The appalling social cost of the minimum wage may be the underlying cause for
the demise of the American family. When parents are forced to work for slave
wages at multiple jobs the family suffers. The basic inequity of our culture
of greed sets in motion waves of criminal activity, as desperate people seek
any means of providing for their families. Desperate people do desperate things.
It also gives rise to a culture of violence, drugs and widespread alcoholism
that characterize America.
The per capita rate of incarceration in the U.S. exceeds that of any industrialized
nation, with the poor and people of color disproportionately affected. Disparity
doesn’t just happen. It is the result of social and economic policy deliberately
enacted against the poor. The evidence speaks for itself in the voting records
of Congress. It is there for all to see.
Ambrose I. Lane, Sr., XM-Satellite radio channel 169, The Power, 6/23/2006
The Congressional Millionaires Club, Charles Sullivan, ICH 11/21/05
How the System Works (or doesn’t), http://www.corporations.org/system/
Ralph Nader, Cutting Corporate Welfare, Seven Stories Press, 2000
American Friends Service Committee, http://www.afsc.org
Charles Sullivan is a photographer, free lance
writer and social activist living in the hinterland of West Virginia. He welcomes
your comments at email@example.com
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