Inequality–Our Biggest Problem

Jan 14, 2021

Donald Trump rode to his populist Presidency by seizing upon the frustrations of mostly white male blue collar workers. His own life was far from that–inheriting $40 million from his wealthy father, (mis) managing a real estate empire from luxurious offices and chauffeur driven limousines. He’d probably never been to a farm or factory, and was not a church goer. But, as he began his campaign, he discovered the frustration of this large constituency which had not been addressed by policies in previous administrations across the past 50 years. Not since the 70s had the working class enjoyed a fair shake in regard to jobs, opportunity, and wages. He suddenly became a Christian and began to promise return of jobs lost to China, plus protection from immigrants, increased security, gun rights, and opposition to abortion–popular with this group.

I have argued for years that inequality should be our greatest concern. It’s not so much that the ranks and wealth of the top 10% have been skyrocketing. They have, but turns out the working class is not so disturbed by that. The concern of the bottom 50% is that they cannot enjoy a decent life in the meantime. Unable to afford a safe and decent home. Not enough job opportunities. Wages insufficient for family health care, good education for the kids, even food. These seemingly indisputable rights of life in America have been denied the working class for almost 50 years. Democrats and Republicans are to blame. Frustrations were increasing.

These workers have been vocal–as at Trump’s rallies. They can also be violent, as at the Capital on January 6. Republicans argue that their grievances are legitimate. The “grievance” that the election was “stolen” is NOT legitimate. However, their basic needs being overlooked repeatedly by the governments of both Democrats and Republicans are indeed fully legitimate. No wonder they have lost confidence in our institutions and are attracted to a populist who offered both fake culprits and fake solutions, and who promised to “empty the swamp” in Washington.

Can anyone deny that the protests of blue collar males has little to do with their incomes, their opportunity, the lackluster services or help from the government? If not these, as primary and entirely legitimate grievances, then what? Does anyone really imagine they are behaving this way because they hate immigrants, they hate foreign countries, or solely because they were told by their President that the election was stolen?

Their plight never gets better. And, whenever a downturn comes, be it the economic downturn of 2007, the Covid downturn of 2020, or the advancing impact of climate change, the poor suffer more. The top 10% continue to prosper, but the working class struggle pay the bills for basics–housing, food, education, health.

According to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), the collective wealth of America’s 651 billionaires has jumped by over $1 trillion since roughly the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to a total of $4 trillion at market close on Monday, December 7, 2020.

Meanwhile, ordinary Americans have not fared well during the pandemic:

  • Nearly 14.9 million have fallen ill with the virus and 284,000 have died from it. [Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center]
  • Collective work income of rank-and-file private-sector employees—all hours worked times the hourly wages of the entire bottom 82% of the workforce—declined by 2.3% from mid-March to mid-October, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
  • Nearly 67 million lost work between Mar. 21 and Oct. 7, 2020. [S. Department of Labor]
  • 20 million were collecting unemployment on Nov. 14, 2020. [S. Department of Labor]
  • 98,000 businesses have permanently closed. [Yelp/CNBC]
  • 12 million workers have lost employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic as of August 26, 2020. [Economic Policy Institute]
  • Nearly 26 million adults reported their household not having enough food in the past week between Nov. 11-23. From Oct. 28 to Nov. 7, between 7 and 11 million children lived in a household where kids did not eat enough because the household could not afford it. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP)]
  • 4 million adults—1 in 6 renters—reported in November being behind in their rent. [CBPP]

Trump did nothing for this group. But the problem of neglecting them predates Trump by decades. It began to explode under Trump. The neglect, the suffering, and the cocktail of Trump rhetoric lit a bonfire which will not be quenched by voting Trump out.

If there is any positive to four years with Trump, it is this: He awakened the disenfranchised, and they’re angry and vocal. Maybe our newest government will be forced to seriously address their legitimate needs. We are all to blame for negligence–spending money on tax breaks for the wealthy, increased military, and numerous pork projects, while a new breed of terror is rising up from inside our country–demanding solutions, with some prepared to use violence to achieve their ends.

Source: Inequality.org, dec 7 2020

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