It’s the inequality, stupid
If you were looking forward to a great American recovery this year, so far things are coming up…downright depressing. With $8 billion just cut from the SNAP (food stamps) program, the housing market turned into a vicious game for Wall Street, the nearly 2 million long-term unemployed who’ve just lost critical assistance, and the middle class continuing to disappear, 2014 looks like the beginning of a dangerous decline.
I mean, if Walmart is getting too expensive for the middle class, you know that we might be entering an alternate universe of bad. And when a former White House economic adviser says that our inequality is heading towards a “Downton Abbey economy,” we just might want to rethink our course.
Well, let me revise that. It’s looking –great– for the wealthiest in our country. In 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took home more than half of the entire country’s total income, the highest level ever recorded. And those economic gains you’ve been hearing about, guess where they’re going? From 2009 to 2012, 95% of all income gains went directly to the uber-wealthy top 1 percent.
Profits have been rising since the Great Recession, but most Americans aren’t seeing any of it. In fact, we’re steadily losing ground, with income for the middle 60% of us dropping in the past few years. Meanwhile, we know from our DC office’s work with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) on the #WhoGoesHungry campaign, that the SNAP benefit cuts will further hurt our society’s most vulnerable children, elderly and families. Yet, some of the rich and elite members of our society continue to push for further cuts to assistance programs, further augmenting inequality. Worried yet? Well, there’s also the looming prospect of the next economic bubble: the $1.2 trillion student loan crisis. With a faltering job market and massive debt, too many college graduates are un-or-underemployed and will be unable to pay off these lifelong shackles.
There is some good news. We aren’t waiting around for things to trickle down anymore. Two thirds of Americans are unhappy with the nation’s income inequality and it’s coming out in force.
Minimum wage battles continue to grow as more people wake up to the injustice of corporations getting tax-payer-subsidized labor through poverty-wages (check out this handy interactive map to see which states are taking action). Beyond waiting for governments to intervene, we need to also pressure more companies to raise wages themselves, like the protests targeting McDonald’s and Walmart. Corporate profits and worker productivity are at an all time high and we should be outraged that working Americans have seen no gains.
Even the wealthy are starting to fight against the wealth gap, challenging the trickle-down economics of old, with one Seattle venture capitalist hilariously stating, “Prosperity isn’t something that squirts out of rich people.” It’s not just social interest on their part, it’s also self-interest. Income inequality is seriously hurting our economy, which will eventually hurt everyone.
We’re already seeing the first major waves for change continuing in big cities, such as in NYC, where New Yorkers will push new mayor Bill deBlasio to fulfill his campaign promise to tackle the inequality gap with higher taxes for the rich, early-childhood education and affordable housing. These ideas are starting to build all over the nation, but we have to demand them.
Our country is under threat of being consumed by this staggering injustice. Let’s make 2014 the year we turn the tide.