Economic Inequality Needs to Be Alleviated
Economic inequality is one of the biggest problems facing America today. It pervades just about every aspect of our lives from birth and throughout our entire lives. Our economic, educational, health care and political systems have all been ravaged by the effects of having developed a society where the difference in wealth and income of those at the top and those at the bottom have been growing by leaps and bounds for years, even decades now. Many prominent economists and politicians have identified this as a situation in dire need of repair. President Obama has mentioned the issue of economic inequality on more than one occasion, along with calls for legislative action designed to rectify it and enable the vast majority of American workers to regain their economic well-being after years of stagnant wages and the loss of many good paying job opportunities.
Since the Reagan Administration, the bulk of American wage earners have seen minimal or no gains in their income relative to inflation. The conservative push to lower taxes on the wealthy and corporations in order to enable them to invest in job creation and expansion for the overall economy has achieved few if any of its promises, except to increase the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. Jobs have been created, but often in lower paying service sectors as manufacturing has shifted abroad where cheaper labor is available. Economic globalization has benefitted the profit margins of large multinational corporations and increased the wealth of the rich while pauperizing more and more of what used to be the American Middle Class. Technological improvements which have enabled huge gains in worker productivity have not been met with corresponding gains for the workers, only for the corporate executives and shareholders.
So called “free trade agreements have also helped to accelerate the growing disparity. By making it easier for capital to flow globally, while workers are not so mobile, countries (and on a smaller, but also significant scale, states within the US) become pitted in a race to the bottom in terms of wages and working conditions to entice companies to locate manufacturing plants, etc. there instead of elsewhere.Tax laws are also used to lure capital away from one place to another, often with most of the benefit going to the corporations, with many job losses in one area and gains in another where wages are lower and working conditions often less than satisfactory.
Attempts to start reversing these conditions and rebuilding the middle class that the New Deal enabled to strengthen and even flourish after the Great Depression have so far been almost totally stymied by Congress over the past three years. Despite ample evidence that the gap between the 1% and the 99% in this country has grown even worse during the recent recovery, the House Republican caucus, in particular, has acted in a manner to make sure that nothing is done to remedy the situation. Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation is one of many proposals made by the President which has seen absolutely no progress in Congress. An ambitious jobs proposal met with similar treatment last year. Their sole aim seems to be to lessen the tax burden on the wealthy by refusing to meet the needs of the vulnerable among us.
The Senate has contributed mightily to this coordinated effort to stymie the will of the people and improve the economy for more than just the takers among the wealthy. By refusing to allow confirmation of key Presidential nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for two years, those bodies were left with far less power to do their jobs than was intended by the legislation that created them. Some easing of GOP senatorial recalcitrance this year leaves some room for optimism that some improvements may be forthcoming. The Administration recently also took an action which enabled home health workers to fall under the wage and hours provisions of national labor laws – a definite step in the right direction. A similar step could be taken without Congressional action to ensure that workers employed under federal contracts receive livable wages. That is a step that should be taken quickly. More workers in this group make sub-living wages than do at Walmart and McDonald’s combined.
Rather than trying to help out the workers and the economy by taking action designed to increase incomes and job creation through legislative action, Congress has chosen to act as a drag on the economy in several ways. The sequester directly drags on the economy by decreasing spending, largely in programs that assist the very young, elderly and poor. The objective seems to be to ensure that the wealthy are able to retain all of the gains they have received in the past several decades. The problem here is that, contrary to the views put forth by many opposed to strengthening social programs that help to alleviate economic pressures felt by those at the bottom of the socio economic pyramid, there is nothing particularly fair about why some of us are rich and some of us are not. The real “takers” are often the ones complaining the most about the less fortunate being “takers”.
There is also an obvious lack of equality in this society with regard to opportunity among the wealthy as opposed to the rest of us. The ability to get a good education, from birth through higher education, is directly correlated to the circumstances of one’s birth in this country. Mitt Romney’s and Bill Gates’ children do not face the obstacles that the child of a single mother working multiple jobs to make ends meet does. Schools are different. The same goes for nutrition, health care and so on. . Early childhood education is another area stressed by the President which has fallen on deaf ears in Congress. Food stamps try to address nutritional needs not met by our economic system otherwise. Health care is another important area where money matters. That should not be so, either. Wealth and privilege go together in our society in almost every aspect of our lives. Any attempts to place us all on equal footing are opposed by most of those seeking to retain the privileges for themselves. They often find it easy to persuade others to do their bidding in Congress, state and local government, and even the courts.
That economic inequality has been exacerbated during the most recent economic “recovery” is indisputable. That our government has been hesitant to do anything about it is also indisputable. Neither situation is acceptable in a fair and just society. We could probably be more patient if the evidence of a deteriorating situation was not so striking and the lack of concerted effort to rectify it not so glaring. The time for 21 hour speeches to glorify one politician and try to deny the entire nation of the government and policies it deserves and voted for is over. Delay tactics and refusal to address needs for immigration reform, gun control, an improved economy for all and a better balance between domestic and military spending aren’t cutting it for us. Spending half the year on recess and either missing or nearly missing every important deadline or doing nothing at all to fix problems is not doing your job. In 2014, I hope there will be more people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders elected to Congress, and fewer like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and others who appear to only be using their office as a form of personal aggrandizement or a stepping stone to the Presidency.
Politicians who govern by generating fear of any change, trying to pit people against each other, stifling the voices of dissent and/or suppressing the votes of those who oppose them will serve neither the needs or interests of their constituents nor the greater good of democracy within our country. Economic inequality, as well as all the other forms of inequality prevalent in our society, helped to generate the Great Depression in the last century, and could well do the same in this one, or worse. We need representatives in Congress who listen to, identify and address the needs of ALL our people, not just their benefactors with loud wallets. The status quo no longer meets the needs of enough of us to justify its preservation.
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