Poverty: America's Greatest Shame
(Formerly titled Poverty: America's Hidden Shame)
The idea that "God helps those who help themselves" is deeply ingrained in the American culture, and that's because there is a strong element of truth in it.
However, wealthy right-wing partisans in America, most of whom claim to be Christians, have always tended to distort that idea claiming it means that you are simply on your own, that the poor deserve their lot, and that government's role is not to promote the general welfare to ensure domestic tranquility (even though the Founding Fathers said it is).
That is why especially during the last 30 years we have increasingly seen politicians ignoring the plight of the working poor, the poor, the disabled and the elderly, preferring to declare people should be self-reliant while at the same time providing the wealthiest few with great entitlement and privilege, pretending that is the patriotic and Christian thing to do.
That's why it is so important to understand that it's not. The "Religious Right" in America merely managed to turn Christianity upside down by taking isolated sentences from the Bible to "prove" their right-wing political ideology was Christian.
For example, Luke 19:26 states that Jesus of Nazareth said: "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from those that have not, even what they have will be taken away."
The Reaganite "Religious Right" focuses on that because they think that justifies their claim that their wealth is a reward from God, and that the poor deserve their lot because they are just lazy and "not self-reliant," as Ronald Reagan said. However, they simply ignore everything else Jesus said about the rich and poor, and they misinterpret and misunderstand (or ignore) the context and meaning of Luke 19:26.
In the greater context of Luke 19:8-26 Jesus was talking partly about the fact that we generally reap what we sow, and he was specifically talking about the rewards of earning an honest and fair profit from an honest investment. However, Jesus qualified such statements.
You see, Jesus also said that it is wrong to reap what you did not sow, or profit unjustly because you were tempted by greed and lust for money. Moreover, he said that you should do unto others as you would have others do unto you, and treat all others as you would want to be treated if you were them -- and be fair, just, kind, charitable, and generous.
Of course, the “Religious Right” also points to Matthew 13:12, which states: "Whosoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever has not, from him shall be taken away even what he has."
However, they misunderstand that and take it out of context too.
The greater context of Matthew 13:10-15 states: “The disciples said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ Jesus answered and said, ‘Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever has not, from him shall be taken away even that he has. Therefore I speak to them in parables: because seeing they see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. For Isaiah said, 'You hear but do not understand; and see but do not perceive.' For these people's heart have grown gross, and their ears are dull, and their eyes do not see. Unless they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, they may be healed.’”
Therefore, both Isaiah and Jesus were often not talking about material possessions or money when spoke of the poor. They often spoke of the people who are spiritually poor, who lack wisdom, understanding, and faith.
Of course, Jesus also literally advocated for the poor, and he rebuked the commercial profiteers who were profiting unjustly and had turned the temple into a "den of thieves." He hated greedy profiteers, and he even said it would be "easier for a rich man to try to fit through the eye of a needle than to enter heaven."
Moreover, in another sense, what Jesus said about the “haves and have nots” was also a kind of prophecy similar to Isaiah’s, about how we should treat the least of our brethren.
Jesus said that during the age he ushered in, and especially now at its end, a corrupt, wealthy, powerful few would corrupt society. They would not serve God, but Mammon, worshiping wealth and material possession. And they would take more and more so that the majority and the poor would have less and less. (And see quotes from Isaiah and Jesus about caring for the poor in the sidebar to the lower right of this page.)
That's why all Americans should learn the truth, not only about what Jesus taught, but about what the Founding Fathers of America thought about government "promoting the general welfare."
That's important because it's gotten to the point where about half of the people in American have the wrong idea and attitude about the cause and the nature of poverty, and, because of what they've been led to believe by right-wing religious and political leaders, they tend to generalize and blame the victims of poverty.
That attitude is, of course, partly the result of a human tendency to judge others as inferior. However, it is mostly the result of carefully crafted political propaganda cloaked as religious truths. And it was not created by accident, or by coincidence. It was created and spread deliberately.
It was spread because some people who gain great wealth become greedy, selfish, self-important and self-righteous, and they want everyone to believe that the rich are blessed by God and the poor deserve to be poor because they merely "lack faith" and are just "lazy and not self-reliant."
That is what the most influential American political figure of the last half of the 20th Century,Ronald Reagan, led many Americans to believe. And he did it because it's what many wealthy people want to believe to justify themselves, and it's what they want everyone else to believe.
But, it's not true.
In fact, as you will see, that idea and attitude is not only the opposite of the intent of Jesus of Nazareth, but in violation of the intent of the Founders of the United States of America who wanted government to "promote the general welfare and ensure domestic tranquility."
Of course, there are some people that are lazy and not self-reliant. However, the number of them is small and they are a relative few, and most poor people are certainly not lazy. In fact, usually in about 79 percent of poverty stricken households there is at least one adult working full time. It's just that their wages and incomes are not sufficient, and that is very clear.
The latest UNICEF report on child poverty showed that 23.1 percent of American children live in poverty, giving the United States the second highest rate of child poverty out of 35 developed countries. Only Romania ranked higher in child poverty. And, in 2010, 20.5 million Americans were living on less than half of the federal poverty level.
Many poor people who suffer in poverty are unable to work because they are elderly or disabled or unemployed through no fault of their own, and most poor people are in the working poor population who work full time for a living but are not paid a fair living wage.
Meanwhile the wealthiest few keep getting incredibly more wealthy. That has been the case during the passing age, and it's gotten so bad that now 20 percent of the American population owns 95 percent of the nation's wealth, while 80 percent of us are expected to get by on the remaining five percent. And it's getting worse in that regard.
The truth is that Jesus advocated for the poor and criticized the greedy rich. And the truth must be told because the un-Christian attitude and the misleading propaganda (which was sold as being "religious and patriotic") has ultimately caused a cruel, heartless attitude toward the poor, the homeless and the hungry. It has even caused some major cities in America to ban people from feeding the homeless.
It is a universal divine imperative to feed and care for the poor, and it is not merely a Christian idea, and it's not even necessarily a religious idea. In the most enlightened, successful and harmonic ancient tribes and nations of the world, the elderly, the disabled, the orphans and anyone else who needed help and support received it from the community. The people took care of each other. It was the natural, humanitarian thing to do. It was just common sense. And it still is.
Unfortunately, the more populated and “civilized” humanity became, the less humanitarian some people became, especially those who fought for and gained great personal wealth, power, and domain.
That is why enlightened, conscientious spiritual teachers have always been sent by God to teach people how they should behave toward one another. In fact, that is why there have been so many great spiritual teachers who have taught the Universal Divine Imperative that we should treat all others as we would want to be treated if we were them.
Unfortunately, much of the leadership of the world’s most powerful empires and nations have simply ignored the Universal Divine Imperative even while masquerading as good, virtuous, and even religious.
It has been that way throughout history, and even now the poverty rate in a nation is an indicator of the level of inequity its government's laws allow. And that has been the case in America, just as it has been everywhere else. In fact, honest and objective reports such as The Children's Defense Fund's 2011 Report, which uses government figures and other research studies, show that 15.5 million children in American live in poverty (even according to the low government estimates), and America has consistently had the highest or among the highest child poverty rate of any industrialized nation.
Government leaders and legislators have found ways to justify it, of course. In America, for instance, right-wing partisan leaders claiming to be Christians rationalize that the poor will always be with us, and deservedly so. In America, that ideology was originated in 1800 by the Hamiltonian Federalists, who tried to sell the idea of “Christian Meritocracy.” And, even thoughThomas Jefferson, James Madison and other Founding Fathers who wanted a Democratic Republicsquelched it for awhile, it has been revived several times by right-wing politicians.
One notable time was in the 1920s, when greed and corruption inevitably led to economic collapse in 1929 and the Great Depression. But it was revived again in the 1980s by the Reaganites after Americans had forgotten the lessons of history and ignored why and how the great Jeffersonian President Franklin D. Roosevelt saved the country and enabled the middle class to grow large and great.
The Hamiltonian-Reaganite right-wing ideology has always served a hidden agenda, and it has always infected the nation with a culture of greed and self-interest — a culture where basically “It’s Every Man for Himself” -- a culture that always produced a huge income gap, and growing poverty as the rich get richer.
That culture enables the wealthiest few to get incredibly wealthier at the expense of everyone and everything else. But it is a distortion of the American Dream, designed so that the people will simply forget that government should promote the general welfare and ensure domestic tranquility and justice for all.
Instead, a distorted “American Dream” is about the individual “making good” and gaining great personal fame and fortune — and a culture of greed and self-interest is based on the idea that people should be totally “self-reliant” and that government should do little and "get off our back" so that banks, businesses and corporations can be left to their own devices.
Many of those who bought and sold that idea and culture believed in it sincerely, because even though it violates the intent of the Founders, and even though it violates the core universal teachings and the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth and other great spiritual teachers, it was cunningly but charmingly sold as being “patriotic and religious.”
Fortunately, growing numbers of Americans are finally realizing that what we suffer from are the consequences of that clever scam — because while it has enabled the wealthiest few to get incredibly richer, it has shrunken the middle class, increased the population of the working poor, and increased crime, poverty, homelessness, and hunger.
Now Americans need to know about the shameful cause of our problems, because the wool has been pulled over the eyes of many who still believe in the lies and falsehoods that were sold as truth.
Now the truth must be told because many Americans have been led to believe that the problem is the “laziness” of the poor. That’s what the Republican idol Ronald Reagan said as president, and recently it was perpetuated by Republican presidential candidates, one of whom said, "If you're out of a job, blame yourself," and another who said “Protesters (in the Occupy movement) are just jealous."
That is heartless, shameful, misleading and deceptive rationale and propaganda, concocted to blame the victims and justify the greed and hoarding of the wealthiest few, and that propaganda has been spread in many ways to claim poverty is not a problem, and that our political economic system is perfectly fair.
Another example of shamelessly false right-wing Republican propaganda is the claim that nearly half of American households receive some kind of government benefit. However, that is extremely misleading, as it was intended to be. According to the National Poverty Center (NPC) Policy Brief #28 of February 2012, several studies show a declining proportion of benefits go to the poor. Most entitlements go to the wealthy, and in fact, the misguided and heartless 1996 “Welfare Reform Act” ended the cash entitlement program in the U.S. for poor families with children.
Consequently, millions of American parents that are unemployed have virtually no cash income. They have to depend on food banks, soup lines, and the measly and hard to get food stamp allocation if they can qualify. Millions of children have been made into Dickensian "Oliver Twists," saying, "Please, Sir, can I have some more" because they are hungry.
The NPC expects that as a result of shrinking access to cash assistance and the increasingly poor economic climate, the number of households with children living in extreme poverty will increase as it has since 1996 and particularly since 2008. NPC estimates that about 20 percent of all households with children are living in extreme poverty.
Therefore, since the majority of poverty stricken households are supported by at least one adult working full time, the fact is that despite the deceptive right-wing Reaganite Republican claim that the problem is merely "laziness" and that the poor deserve their lot, the basic problem is insufficient, inadequate, unfair wages allowed by a political economic system that is grossly unfair and shamefully inequitable because it enables the wealthiest people to take advantage and exploit the disadvantaged majority.
But, this situation was not created merely during the last 30 years, as most objective economists are saying. Since President Kennedy was assassinated and in spite of Lyndon Johnson's token "War on Poverty," the wealth of the wealthiest one percent of Americans has increased by a factor of 700 percent in terms of total national wealth.
Furthermore, while CEOs of huge corporations were among that one percent who benefited, those who benefited most were the top executives in banks, lending institutions and others in the financial services industry. And the cruel irony is that when their greed, corruption and carelessness inevitably brought their industry to total failure, in 2008 and 2009 taxpayers were forced to bail them out.
However, in spite of the losses and suffering they have caused to other people, they did not suffer. They weren't even pressed to be more fair. In fact, they are even wealthier now than ever before.
Even worse, the most needed reforms and regulations were not put in place to prevent further malfeasance and unfairness, and very crucial regulations on banking and financial institutions thathad been put in place in 1933 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term, which wererepealed in 1999 by a Republican dominated Congress, were not restored. Consequently, all the people victimized suffered and growing numbers continue to suffer, while those responsible are still enabled to indulge themselves and exploit us.
The system has not only enables and caters to the wealthiest few at the expense of the majority and to the detriment of the working poor and the poor. It enables the greedy and corrupt to bribe legislators and, due to a right-wing Supreme Court decision ("Citizens United"), to influence elections with a flood of slanderous, deceptive attack ads on television. And most of us suffer the consequences.
What Americans Don't Know
Unfortunately, even though the growing numbers of children and families living in poverty and suffering from hunger and homelessness are difficult to ignore, most of those who run the U.S. Government still ignore it. And they ignore it because many rich Americans are simply in denial about it or just look the other way because they have been led to believe it is a natural condition brought on by the poor themselves, and therefore inevitable.
That is not true --- and Americans should learn that poverty, hunger and homelessness were big problems long before 2008, and have only gotten worse.
It is no coincidence that there were only 13 Billionaires in America in 1981 before Ronald Reagan became president, but by 2004 there were 313, and there are over 400 Billionaires now in America.
It is no coincident that ever since 1982 the wealthiest few have gotten increasingly and incredibly richer while the middle class has shrunk, the working poor population has grown, and more and more people are destitute.
Around 40 percent of Americans do not have enough income to afford a decent modern lifestyle with decent housing, enough to eat, reliable transportation, adequate health insurance, decent clothing and all the other things to enable them to live relatively comfortable lives.
About 40 percent of Americans are poor according to Western standards of living. They are poorer than their peers with equivalent jobs in Canada, Europe, and Australia. And American workers have to settle for far less benefits and compensation for their labor.
The wealthiest one percent hold the vast majority of the wealth of the nation while about 40 percent of Americans are financially insecure and at risk of poverty if not in poverty. And by any definition the political economic system in America is not fair, and we should understand why we suffer from economic crises.
The current economic crises were thirty years in the making, brought on by the failures of an enabling, corrupt, careless, Laizes Faire government that serves the interests of the wealthiest few and their corporations, banks and financial institutions, at the expense of the majority of the people, and at the expense of the infrastructure and the environment.
The problem is Reaganism and Reaganomics, which was sold as the "patriotic and religious" way to run government, even though it actually serves "Mammon," not God or Country. But, again, the Reaganite ideology is not new. The Hamiltonian Federalists invented it back in the early 1800s, and for the last 30 years the Neo-Conservatives and Reaganites have successfully sold that idea and preached a "Gospel of Prosperity."
And lest anyone think President Obama has changed that, they should learn the facts. For example, according to a Pew Research study published in April 2013 in an article titled A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%, An Uneven Recovery, by Richard Fry and Paul Taylor, the median net worth of the wealthiest seven percent of the population has risen by an estimated 28 percent, while the net worth of 93 percent of Americans dropped by four percent. And, because that Pew Research Center analysis was based on the most recently released Census Bureau data for 2009-2011, it does not reveal that the situation has only gottenworse since then (a fact most Americans are painfully aware of).
That is because Mr. Obama has expediently endorsed Reaganism, because the Reaganites have managed to maintain and even enhance Reagan's image. Therefore, we should examine the Reaganite rationale, because it is false.
How The Reaganite "Gospel of Prosperity" Was Concocted
"Them that’s got shall get. Them that’s not shall lose. So the Bible says, but it still is news." – From the song, God Bless the Child
Does the Christian Bible say that? Well, sort of. But it is a misleading concept when taken out of context.
Again, Luke 19:26 states that Jesus of Nazareth said: "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from those that have not, even what they have will be taken away."
The Reaganite "Relious Right" focuses on that, thinking it justifies their claim that their wealth is a reward from God, and that the poor deserve their lot because they are "lazy."
However, they ignore everything else Jesus said about the rich and poor. They ignore the truth about Luke 19:26 which was discussed above. Generally we reap what we sow, for in this world there is a natural karmic law of reciprocity and cause and effect at work, and, when it works naturally, there is usually justice in the world.
However, greedy and corrupt people can alter the natural system, break that natural law and treat their fellow man unfairly, to say the least. Furthermore, if we look at what Jesus taught in context, we can see that he also said that it is wrong to reap what you did not sow, or profit unjustly because you were tempted by greed and lust for money.
Jesus taught the Golden Rule of Hillel the Elder, and he also rebuked the commercial profiteers who were profiting unjustly and had turned the temple into a "den of thieves." He hated greedy profiteers, and he even said it would be "easier for a rich man to try to fit through the eye of a needle than to enter heaven."
In spite of the facts, many proud, right-wing conservative Americans thump their bible claiming to be Christians. They ignore the truth because the Reaganite's "Gospel of Prosperity" distorts the message of Jesus to suit their own self-serving purposes. And in that respect their political and global ideology is more and more like that of preceding religious military industrial empires of Europe and America during the last sixteen centuries, as they plundered the worldreaping what they did not sow.
Thus the rich still keep getting richer while the poor still keep getting poorer, and the income gap between the wealthiest few and the working poor has grown steadily larger and larger to the point of shameful absurdity. America has been being pushed backward to the point where a small rich aristocracy lives luxuriously while the majority of "commoners" and peasants barely scrape by.
Amazingly, when a good, conscientious, influential person has brought poverty up as a political issue, advocating for the working poor, the poor, the disadvantaged, and the least of our brethren, right-wing politicians have immediately accused the good person of "trying to start class warfare," and even of being a "socialist" or "communist."
Since 1981, Reaganites, Bushites, Neo-Conservatives and Libertarians have been very successful using such tactics, and they renewed them as soon as Barack Obama won the 2009 election. They’ve slandered and denigrated good people who have tried to help poor people, just as their counterparts did in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘50s. They have accused good people, dismissing and labeling them as "tax and spend liberals" — a deceptive and misleading tactic designed to hide the facts about who created the national debt and who really benefits from their tax cuts, and, even worse, to try to make "liberal" a dirty word.
However, the true meaning of the word "liberal" is: "Favorable to progress or reform; advocating individual freedom of action and expression; advocating representational government as opposed to aristocracies or monarchies; advocating freedom from bigotry and prejudice; open-minded and tolerant; characterized by generosity," etc.
These are true spiritual values that all fair people of conscience aspire to, including trueChristians. So, Americans should realize why so many right-wing Republican Neo-Conservatives aggressively and proudly claim to be the "true" Christians, while they slander and sling mud at liberals and progressives.
Typically, Neo-Conservative Reaganite Republicans and Libertarians accused Barack Obama of wanting to "redistribute the wealth by taking money out of your pocket and giving it to someone else."
That kind of rhetoric is misleading, blatantly dishonest and deceptive. And it's hypocriticalbecause for the last 30 years the Reaganites and Bushites have been redistributing the wealth by taking money out of your pocket and giving it to the wealthiest few.
In stark contrast, Obama and the Democrats have at least been advocating a little more fair tax and economic policies that are a little more in the interests of all the people.
Yet, right-wing partisan politicians have claimed that the American political-economic system is fair, and that the reason the rest of us have gotten poorer is not because the richest few have been enabled to get even richer. They claim that poverty is an inevitable, natural condition created by the poor themselves.
None of that is true, because even though there is nothing wrong with being wealthy if you deserve it, and even though there are many people who are deserving of their wealth, too many of the wealthiest few are not really deserving, and no one deserves to be as excessively and absurdly wealthy as some of them are now.
There are very greedy, corrupt people who have taken advantage of a corrupt political-economic system that has enabled corrupt people to indulge their greed, selfishness, and lust for money, at the expense of others. And the huge and increasing income gap, income disparity, and the inequitable distribution of wealth is absolutely not fair or natural, despite what those who profit from it have claimed.
Why the Impact of Reaganism Is Not Fair or "Natural"
It is not fair or natural that about 95 percent of the total wealth of the nation has been pilfered, hoarded and controlled by the wealthiest 20 percent, and most of that by the wealthiest one percent of the population -- while 80 percent of the people own only 5 percent of the wealth.
It is especially not fair that since 1981, practically all the gains in household income have gone to only to the wealthiest 20 percent of households, while 80 percent of American households have become increasingly worse off. And Democrats have not changed that. In fact, they've wound up perpetuating the status quo.
The richest 10 percent of Americans have annual incomes of $100,000 or more, the richest one percent (which is about three million people) have annual incomes of $368,000 or more, and the very richest of them have incomes between one million and about 800 million dollars per year.
Many Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of large American corporations have been enabled by government to rake in tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
For example, here are the average yearly payouts raked in by the CEOs of the financial companies that were in the news headlines after the financial crisis hit in 2008, based on an average of what they got in 2005, 2006 and 2007:
Lehman Brothers CEO $79.3 Million;
Morgan Stanley CEO $18.2 Million;
Goldman Sachs CEO $83.5 Million;
Bear Stearns CEO $18.4 Million;
Merrill Lynch CEO $80.5 Million;
Washington Mutual CEO $13.3 Million;
AIG CEO $15.4 Million;
Fannie Mae CEO $5 Million;
Freddie Mac CEO $5.3 Million.
The ten highest CEO incomes in 2008 were as follows:
1) Blackstone Group LP CEO $702.4 Million;
2) Oracle Corporation CEO $556.9 Million;
3) Occidental Petroleum Corporation CEO $222.6 Million;
4) Hess Petroleum Corporation CEO $159.5 Million;
5) Ultra Petroleum Corporation CEO $116.9 Million;
6) Chesapeake Energy Corporation CEO $114.3 Million;
7) XTO Energy Inc. CEO $103.5 Million;
8) EOG Petroleum Resources Inc. CEO $90.4 Million;
9) Nabors Petroleum Industries CEO $79.3 Million;
10) Abercrombie & Fitch CEO $71.7 Million.
And that’s just the top ten CEOs.
Just as the corporate corruption and the forces of greed and self-interest brought about the economic crisis of 1929 and the Great Depression, the current economic crisis is due to their self-indulgence, greed and corruption during the last three decades.
The problem is that politicians and lawmakers ignored the important lessons that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal showed America — that fairly regulating business and the economy, establishing reasonable controls on wages and prices, and creating conditions to strengthen and expand the middle class, was what once made America great.
Instead, the Reaganites took America in the opposite direction, backwards, to how it was in the 1920s, claiming "It’s just good business." And it remains that way, and has even gotten worse.
You see, while there’s been a lot of complaints about the wealthiest 1 percent, the wealthiest 0.01 percent are those with incomes of at least or more than $10 Million per year. And a good number of them are the CEOs of U.S. Military Contractors. Their fortunes boomed during the Vietnam War, and have been extremely profitable during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example, the top three U.S. Military Contractor Chief Executive Officer (CEO) incomes in 2010 were: Northrop Grumman CEO - $22.84 Million; Lockheed Martin CEO - $21.89 Million; Boeing CEO - $19.4 Million. Those whopping incomes are similar to the top two financial sector CEO incomes in 2010, which were: JP Morgan Chase CEO - $20.81 Million; and Wells Fargo CEO - $18.97 Million.
Their absurdly high profits and incomes, which were gained at our expense, not only enabled them to make their top executives very wealthy. They enabled them to wield significant corporate influence on Congress.
For example, here are their lobbying (bribing) expenditures for 2010: Lockheed Martin - $12.7 Million; Northrop Grumman - $15.7 Million; Boeing - $17.89 Million; JP Morgan Chase - $7.41 Million; Wells Fargo - $5.43 Million. And that's just to bribe and influence Congress.
Corporate profits have risen since early 2010, and they keep climbing. (American Corporate profits were $1.5 Trillion in 2007. They dropped a bit as a result of the economic crisis in 2008. But, by the fourth quarter of 2009 quarterly profits were $1.42 Trillion, and they rose to $1.64 Trillion in the second quarter of 2010.)
Unfortunately, most of the corporate gains came straight out of the payroll and benefits of average workers. Companies fired or laid off employees, cut salaries and benefits for the majority of employees, even as the top executives have continued to enjoy skyrocketing incomes and bonuses.
Even as business has picked up since 2009, companies have been extremely slow to hire or rehire. Remaining employees are required to do much more with much less, and many of the companies that cut pay, benefits and 401(K) matches have not restored them even after raking in record profits.
While the wealthiest few live so very luxuriously and even palatially, the working poor work not only full time but sometimes have to take two jobs to try to support their families. They cannot afford some of the most basic necessities of life, like sufficient food and housing, medicine, health care, utilities, or transportation.
The disabled and elderly have to live on such meager fixed incomes that they are even less able to afford the most basic necessities of life. There are now almost 17 million Americans out of work and are looking for work but can’t find a job.
Clearly that is not fair, and the unemployed cannot find a job even though there is much work that needs to be done -- because the federal, state and city governments claim they cannot "afford" to put people to work, when it is because they’ve cut taxes so much for corporations and the wealthiest few that governments don’t have enough revenue to do what needs to be done!
After all, two-thirds of American corporations making $2.5 trillion in sales over the last several years paid no federal income taxes. For example, America's largest corporation, General Electric, as well as Exxon Mobil and Bank of America have managed to avoid paying any taxes at all.
Furthermore, the average effective tax rate of the richest 400 households, most of whom are Billionaires, was only 16.6%. And by the way, in the mid 1950s the 400 richest tax payers paid about 51 percent of their income in federal taxes, but by 2007 (just before the economic crises became unavoidable, Reaganism and Reaganism on steroids under Bush), that percentage was down to about 16 percent. However, that's merely the richest 400. The wealthiest one percent of the population is about three million people, and they were paying, and still pay, as little as 7 percent (less than the working poor pay) and most don’t pay more than 17 percent of their income in taxes.
Meanwhile, even according to the obsolete and far too low federal government poverty standard, there are usually around 14 to 16 million American children living in poverty, and now the number is 15.5 million, and that number has increased enormously since 2008.
Even before the current economic crisis struck, almost 30 percent of the population (91.6 million people) lived below the actual poverty line (as distinguished from the federal poverty guidelines which are grossly out of date and widely recognized as inaccurate by state government officials).
That figure used to be about 20 percent of the population, which was pointed out in the early 1960s in Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America. The 20 percent figure had remained rather steady, but it spiked following the so-called "Welfare Reform" law established by the Republicans in 1996.
Consequently, government statistics now do not reflect how bad the situation is, because that legislation not only made things worse but also prevented us from being able to accurately know how bad it is. And, between 2000 and 2008, the population living in poverty grew by ten percent and the plight of the poor and working poor is now even worse.
Of course, statistics and numbers go up and down, and they change. But they've consistently reflected unfairness and inequity. And even though government statistics are often skewed for political reasons, they still reveal part of the reality.
The reality is that the actual number of people living in poverty has increased, and the median family income has decreased by tens of thousands, while the wealthiest few have gotten incredibly wealthier. In fact, during Bush’s reign there were further increases and even a suburbanization of poverty.
We can and do have a very good idea of how bad the situation actually is, not only from good (but largely ignored) research, but also by simply looking at how badly needed all the homeless shelters, food banks, soup lines and toy drives are; how many people don’t have health insurance or are under insured, cannot afford higher education, suffer from food insecurity, are cold and hungry, or live hand-to-mouth and are one paycheck or one catastrophic event away from financial disaster, poverty, hunger, and homelessness.
We can also look at how growing numbers of the increasing working poor population have been forced out of their houses and have to live in campers and cheap used motor homes and trailers, because even though they work full time, they cannot afford to keep a decent roof over their heads, enough food on the table, or enough heat to keep warm.
If we ask all the people who help or try to help all the people who need help, we really know how bad the situation is. It is actually very easy to see what’s really going on — unless you just look the other way.
Furthermore, if you also consider all the unfair price gouging by oil companies, health insurance companies, monopolistic food production companies, prescription drug companies, credit card companies, predatory loan companies and banks, and all the excess profit they are raking in from people (most of whom really cannot afford it), then you get a bigger picture of the unfairness and inequity.
Over the last 30 years politicians have enabled predatory lenders and given them free licence to put their own excessive profits ahead of customers’ financial security, and ahead of public good. And while Republicans blame the sub-prime mortgage crisis on "irresponsible" home buyer-borrowers for "getting in over their head," we should understand where the blame lies.
The fault lies in the deregulation of the last three decades, an extreme lack of proper government regulation and oversight, and in a false attitude that called for it and permitted it.
That enabled corrupt predatory lenders to get away with making shady deals. In addition to all the other fraud and malfeasance, many banks involved in the mortgage fiasco and foreclosure mania have been forging documents to essentially rob people of their homes. And none of them have been held accountable or brought to justice. (See this December 2011 TV report on "Prosecuting Wall Street".)
(Continued at Poverty: America's Greatest Shame, Part 2, which discusses better banking and explains exactly why the Reaganite "Gospel of Prosperity" is wrong.)