That’s quite a contrast from earlier this year when inequality was all the rage. Reporters were scrambling to write about it. In January, President Barack Obama made it the focus of his State of the Union speech. And Thomas Piketty’s 700-page book about inequality shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list in the spring.
What do the new data say? The gulf between America’s richest and poorest is growing.
In 2013, the top 5 percent of households had an average income of $196,000 while those in the bottom 10 percent brought in only $12,400. The total number of Americans living in povertyremains at the record levels reached years ago: 45.3 million people.
And though the poverty rate for children edged down from 21.8 percent in 2012 to 19.9 percent in 2013, children remain far more likely to face economic hardship than either working-age adults or senior citizens. All signs point to inequality getting worse in the years to come unless something changes.
Maybe you think that sounds too grim to think about. But you should still care, and here’s why. The growing gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else is about much more than dollars. It’s about everything that matters to you most — your kids, their education, your family’s health, your community, your quality of life, and the democracy you live in.
Tax avoidance is just as bad at the state level, which is a much greater source of K-12 educational funding. Both individuals and corporations are paying less state taxes than ever before. As a result, our public schools, the most important expression of a society working together to secure future generations, are being defunded and dismantled and left to decay.
It may be the ugliest extreme of inequality in our country — tax avoidance by the rich vs. broken-down schools.
Rich White Male Tax Avoidance
According to a Standard and Poor’s analysis, average annual state tax revenue fell from 10% to 5% between 1980 and 2011, even as the share of total income for the top 1% of earners doubled. The top 10% and the top 500 CEOs are predominately white males. Our country’s missing tax revenue can be found in their growing stock portfolios.
Corporate Tax Cheats
Walgreens and Burger King are the most recent manifestations of the so-called inversions that allow companies to skip out on the country that made them successful. They don’t want to pay for decades of publicly fundedresearch in technology and medicine; a legal system that protects patents and intellectual property; infrastructure, including roads and seaports and airports to ship their products; unprecedented amounts of local and national security, a nationwide energy grid to power factories, emergency management (FEMA) to clean up industrial accidents.
WASHINGTON — With a chilly wind blowing and under a sometimes grey, overcast sky, Honor Flights carrying World War II veterans from Florida, Rhode Island and Wisconsin arrived in Washington on Saturday for tours of the WWII memorial. For many, it was a sight to see for the first — and possibly last — time.
The majority of veterans on site for the event were men, but among them were several women. One was Doris Zimmermann, a former Navy Yeoman Petty Officer 2nd class who served from April from 1944 to 1946, watching German prisoners of war. Zimmerman arrived as part of the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight (the organization is unaffiliated with Stars and Stripes newspaper).
“(Serving) was an interesting experience, because I didn’t know German. It was a good experience, but the whole Navy was a good experience for me. It changed my whole life. I made some wonderful friendships in the Navy that endured through the years” Zimmermann said.
The profit motive fogs the thinking of free-market advocates. The Economist gushes, “Take a bow, capitalism…the biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalising markets to let poor people get richer.” Forbes proclaims its belief in “the unmatched power of capitalism to improve human life.”
Self-indulgent capitalists have turned much of America against its own best interests by promoting a winner-take-all philosophy that reaps great rewards for a few people at the expense of everyone else. To the neoliberal, vital human needs like health and education are products to be bought and sold.
Here are some other examples of greed and the pain it causes.
The city of Detroit, which is positioned next to the greatest supply of fresh water between the polar ice caps, has lost its access to water because of bad financial deals that have left unsuspecting citizens with over a half-billion dollars in interest payments. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr responded by putting the whole water system up for sale.
The United Nations has reminded us of the obvious, that water is a human right. But the prominent water company Nestle says water is not a human right. The company has taken this essential ingredient of human life and sold it back to us at a million percent profit.
Meanwhile, as average citizens of America and the world face increasing hardships from climate change, Wall Street firms are, according to Bloomberg, “investing in businesses that will profit as the planet gets hotter.”