The 3 richest Americans have as much money as the bottom 50%
7:30 PM – 22 Jan 2018
2013 Farm Bill, Corporate Farms, Corporate Welfare, Farm bill, Missouri Republican Party, Missouri Republicans, poverty, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Trickle Down Economics, Vicky Hartzler, Vicky Hartzler Cartoon
Who are the demonized 47 percent of Americans labeled as takers and who only “want free stuff”? Let me give you a portrait of one of them.
While traveling to Jeff City for a hearing, I stopped for a restroom break at Kingdom City. It was a little before six in the morning, and I was greeted with a pleasant hello from an employee cleaning the urinals in the men’s room. He is the face of the 47 percent, the working poor.
Unfortunately, right wing extremists would have you believe this attendant is a taker. Instead he really is a hard working underappreciated contributor. He is joined by dirt poor share croppers like my grandparents, the waitress at your favorite restaurant, the immigrant who mows your lawn, and close to half of America’s population who are working below or close to poverty wages.
We want our 79 cent tacos, our lawns mowed and homes cleaned for as little as possible, and the cheapest price at the pump. In order to for that to happen, we have sanctioned the one of the lowest minimum wages in the world as a percentage of average income.
Here is how our perverse welfare system works: Big business, especially agri-business, has convinced too many of us to drink their Kool-Aid laced propaganda claiming they cannot possibly survive without the lowest possible minimum wage coupled with almost zero benefits. Because their employees cannot survive on these wages, society is forced to supplement their pay with compensation for food, housing, and medical care.
So, who’s really on welfare? The employee who is willing to clean urinals at six in the morning? His employer whose poverty wages have to be augmented by our tax dollars? Or us? After all, we’re the ones clamoring for lower and lower prices.
It is disingenuously to call the low wage workers ‘takers’. We’re the ones who want a 79 cent taco and a burger for dollar. In fact, our welfare system is really best described as a pay me now or pay me later system. Low consumer prices demand low wages, which begets more people unable to survive on their salary, which leads to higher taxes to provide the working poor with a livable income.
As if low wages weren’t bad enough, America stands virtually alone among industrialized countries by not providing universal healthcare. Missouri’s legislature has been locked in a bitter and divisive political battle over whether or not low income workers should be provided healthcare.
Omamacare says: If you are employed but making less than 135 percent of poverty you are eligible for Medicaid. Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled each state can opt in or out of this expansion of Medicaid.
State after state, including conservative ones like Florida and Arizona, has lined up to finally bring healthcare to the working poor. Sadly even though the federal government will fund 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and 80 percent thereafter, Missouri has opted out.
Opponents say they are worried the federal government won’t keep their promise, but that’s a red herring. Other states have put in codicils saying they can withdraw from the Medicaid expansion if the feds don’t keep their word. Governor Nixon has offered the same proposal; yet, Republicans have stubbornly held fast.
Thousands of St. Charles County working poor will be unable to afford medical care while Missouri needlessly loses out on billions of dollars of federal revenue. In addition, our local hospitals will be major losers.
Ronald Reagan setup a system of over 2000 hospitals which were mandated to care for indigent Americans. These hospitals draw from a federal fund of over $19 billion a year to compensate them for their losses. Missouri hospitals currently receive over $700 million in what is called Disproportionate Share Care. Under Obamacare this DSC money goes away, because the low wage workers will be covered under Medicaid. Unless our legislature does the right thing, St. Joseph’s two hospitals in St. Charles County stand to lose almost $90 million a year.
It’s time to stop the political pandering and the demonizing of the working poor and Obamacare. Those who mow our lawns, cook our food, pick our fruit, carry our bags, wait our table, and clean our restrooms deserve better. We can never call ourselves a great country while leaving so many without hope of achieving the American dream.
I was struck by this paragraph in an article by Michael Tomasky on the GOP poison-pill amendment put forward by Eric Cantor that scuttled the Farm Bill in the House last week:
It’s just amazing to me the way they [i.e., the GOP] keep finding new ways to kick poor people. One, deregulate everything so that banks can start placing bets against their own securities. Two, destroy the economy, so that millions more people lose their jobs and have to go on food stamps in the first place. Three, decide that poor people have to pay the penalty for all this financial hanky-panky, and cut the federal programs they depend on to the bone. Four, cut food stamps even more, and make the recipients work more.
It made me think of the recent special election for Jo Ann Emerson’s House seat in the 8th congressional district, which was handily won by Tea Party fellow-travelor Jason Smith, who promises to be just the type who will promote policy directions of the sort Tomasky decries. Pertinent fact here: according to Wikipedia, the 8th district “is the poorest district in Missouri and the 11th poorest congressional district in the country.”
It’s hard to believe that racism, trumped up rage, paranoia and conspiracy fears can be so potent when it comes to getting folks to vote against their own interests, but the evidence is hard to deny. Obama was just telling the truth in 2008 when he talked about the power of guns, God, and, by implication, gays, to rile up folks who are scared silly by a changing world. You can call such language elitist all you want, but since we all have to live with the consequences of this silliness, we get to call it the way it is.
Remember former state representative Cynthia Davis? Remember her special blend of naive, petit-bourgeois self-righteousness, triumphalist religiosity and general dimwittedness? Although the term-limited Davis seems to have been too much of a good thing for otherwise crazy-loving Missouri Republicans – she lost her state senate primary race to the more traditionally respectable Scott Rupp – those of us who have been paying attention to the GOP primaries may feel a bit of Davis-tinged deja vu right about now. This feeling is especially acute when we consider primary contender Rick Santorum who shares Davis’ political DNA in spades.
Despite Davis’ failure in Missouri, Santorum’s current popularity in Iowa offers clear evidence that the GOP is far from forswearing his and Davis’ special brand of looney-tunes. While the Missouri GOP realized that Davis lacked the qualities essential to successfully represent the party, and while nobody really thinks Santorum is presidential material, they both equally embody the authoritarian and exclusivist social and religious strains that serve to rev up a sizable segment of the GOP base.
An excellent example of this GOP cultural model is provided by the particular approach to the problem of resurgent poverty that both Santorum and Davis promote. They seem to think that if you could just force folks (men and women, that is, none of that gay stuff) to get married and stay married, no matter what, poverty would magically go away.
During her tenure as Chair of the Missouri House Interim Committee on Poverty, Davis’ authored a report (pdf) that is full of gems gleaned from the testimony of exactly two witnesses, both from right-wing religious organizations, one of which, the Ruth Institute, touts marriage between “one man, one woman for life” as its raison d’etre, and from a tour of Sunshine Ministries, an evangelical, faith-based, anti-poverty organization. Not surprisingly, six of the nine conclusions offered in the report seemed to be based on the belief that to cure poverty we only need to promote marriage.
Santorum, for his part, is sure that a simple two-step process will end all poverty for all time:
Number one, graduate from high school. Number two, get married. Before you have children, […] If you do those two things, you will be successful economically. What does that mean to a society if everybody did that? What that would mean is that poverty would be no more. If you want to have a strong economy, there are two basic things we can do.
There’s nothing wrong with encouraging folks to get an education, nor can the importance of a strong family structure be underestimated; it only stands to reason that people working in tandem usually have twice the resources as those who try to go it alone. But conservatives like Santorum and Davis manage to get it all backwards. A recent report (pdf) from the Economic Policy Institute analyzes the available data on the relation between marriage and poverty in the African-American and Latino communities and concludes:
Continually high poverty rates among blacks and Latinos are the result of high unemployment and incarceration rates and declining shares of good jobs in the American economy. The decline of marriage in these groups is a collateral consequence of these negative economic conditions. We can address these problems with full-employment in good jobs and comprehensive criminal justice reform. These policies would not only lift large numbers of Latinos and blacks out of poverty, they would also provide significant benefits to all other racial groups. Additionally, these policies would provide more white, Latino, and black men with the economic security they need to get married.
In other words, instead of broken marriages and out-of-wedlock births leading to poverty, poverty leads to broken marriages and out-of-wedlock births which, in turn, reinforces the whole cycle. Forcing people to get married and stay married won’t provide employment when all the jobs have been shipped off to foreign countries. But blaming the evils of poverty exclusively on individual marital choices does let the rest of us off the hook when it comes to addressing the conditions that make stable family relationships difficult to maintain. Plus, it’s always so gratifying to tell other people what they should do – which is, of course, to be more like us.
It’s probably worthwhile to note that Santorum and Davis are selective in their embrace of the miracle powers of marriage. They don’t agree at all with the Huffington Post‘s Amanda Terkel, who notes that by the Santorum/Davis logic, allowing same-sex partners to marry would “increase the number of marriages in the country and theoretically lower the nation’s poverty rate.” Marriage champion Davis is now the executive director of by an anti-gay marriage group – and Santorum’s position on the issue is notorious. They both argue that by increasing the scope of marriage and permitting even more people to share in its benefits, we will undermine the institution for those who are currently permitted to enter it. In their view of the world, there just doesn’t seem to be enough marriage to go around and heterosexuals have dibs on what there is.
Such observations, however, presuppose that the proponents of the miracle marriage cure actually care about logical consistency, which certainly, given their shared tendency to cast their arguments in terms of caricature, doesn’t seem to be the case. However, the rest of us ought to care – one of these clowns is actually being taken seriously – more or less – as a possible candidate for President of the United States, and the more absurd his utterances, the more the the entire political theater will shift into the realm of the ridiculous. We managed to get rid of Davis, what will it take to exile the Santorums of the right from the political sphere?
There was a short item on child poverty in today’s Kansas City Star:
Missouri among 7 states experiencing “very high growth” in poverty caseloads
By DAVID GOLDSTEIN
The Star’s Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON | Food stamp data show more children suffer poverty in Missouri today than a year ago….
The article cites a report, “The Effects of the Recession on Child Poverty: Poverty Statistics for 2008 and Growth in Need during 2009” [pdf], by the Brookings Institution and First Focus:
…Between August 2008 and August 2009, the number of people receiving food stamps, or what are now called SNAP benefits, increased by 7.0 million, or 24 percent, as monthly caseloads skyrocketed from 29.5 to 36.5 million participants.1 This extraordinary increase means that roughly 3.4 million more children were receiving SNAP benefits in August 2009 than a year earlier, based on data showing that almost half (49 percent) of SNAP participants are children.2 Tracking SNAP recipient data by state provides an initial sense of which parts of the country are experiencing the most dramatic growth in economic need among families with children and where we can expect to see the largest increases in child poverty during 2009….
Specifically for Missouri:
…Seven states combine very high growth in SNAP caseloads over the past year with average levels of child poverty in 2008 (between 15 and 20 percent, or relatively close to the national average). These states, located throughout the country, include Florida, Idaho, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, and Oregon…
According to the statistics cited in the First Focus report in 2008 Missouri had a child poverty rate of 18.6% with a margin of error of plus or minus 0.8%. This translates into 259,017 children. The child poverty rate in Mississippi was 30.4%. It was 9.0% in New Hampshire. It was 18.2% for the United States with a margin of error of 0.2%.
From the First Focus report:
…What makes use of food stamps, or to use the modern term, SNAP benefits, a good predictor of child poverty rates? SNAP is the broadest federal safety-net program providing assistance to low-income individuals and families. Almost all individuals and families with monthly earnings and other income below 130 percent of the poverty guidelines and no more than $2,000 in their back account are eligible to receive benefits. Nearly two-thirds of eligible low-income individuals do indeed sign up for and receive benefits. Uptake is higher in families with children and/or lower income: the participation rate was recently estimated as 95 percent among poor families with children.10 With such high participation among families with children, children make up almost half (49 percent) of all SNAP/food stamp participants, with their parents or other adults in their household making up another quarter (27 percent) of participants.11 Not surprisingly, the vast majority of SNAP recipients are poor: 87 percent of SNAP recipients have monthly incomes below the poverty guidelines and the incomes of the remaining 13 percent are not much higher.12 Finally, there is a high correlation between state child poverty rates and state food stamp recipiency rates, considerably higher than the association between child poverty and state unemployment rates (0.82 compared to 0.32 based on 2008 data).13…
And in Missouri from 2008 to 2009?:
…Nineteen states were classified in this analysis as having a very high increase in SNAP participants, namely, an increase equal to 2 to 3 percent of the state population (see table 3). These states include six states in the West (Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and nine states in the South (Alabama, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia), as shown in map 2. The remaining four states are scattered across the Midwest and Northeast (Maine, Missouri, Vermont and Wisconsin)…
Missouri had an increase of 146,198 SNAP/food stamp participants (a 16% increase over 2008) an increase equivalent to 2.5% of the state’s population.
The conclusion of the report is even more distressing and frightening:
…Updated child poverty statistics will be released by the Census Bureau next August or September, providing further information about the breadth and depth of child poverty in the country in 2009. In the meantime, there is sufficient evidence to predict that most states will experience higher child poverty in 2009 than in 2008. Moreover, judging from past recessions, child poverty rates in many states will continue to rise over the next few years, even after the economy begins to recover.
Such predictions are sobering, since child poverty rates were higher in the United States than in most other rich nations even before the onset of the recession.18 Given the negative impact of child poverty on children’s long-term development, it is important to continue monitoring of child poverty rates, under the official poverty measures analyzed here as well as under the new alternative poverty measures being considered in Congress. Given inevitable lag in reporting of poverty statistics, however, it also is important to examine more contemporaneous measures of need, such as the SNAP participant counts highlighted in this issue brief, to get a more timely sense of the effects of the recession on children and their families.
Meanwhile, the republican majority in the Missouri General Assembly fiddles while the future of Missouri burns.
One of the books that shaped my outlook and the person I eventually became was Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugnam. A lot of people list that book as one of those that shaped them, but I have yet to meet a person who was affected by it in the same way I was, and by the same minor character. Indeed, many people don’t even remember the character Fanny Price. But she is the character I remember best…
Then one morning when he was going out, the concierge called out to him that there was a letter. Nobody wrote to him but his Aunt Louisa and sometimes Hayward, and this was a handwriting he did not know. The letter was as follows:
Please come at once when you get this. I couldn’t put up with it any more. Please come yourself. I can’t bear the thought that anyone else should touch me. I want you to have everything.
I have not had anything to eat for three days.
Philip felt on a sudden sick with fear. He hurried to the house in which she lived. He was astonished that she was in Paris at all. He had not seen her for months and imagined she had long since returned to England. When he arrived he asked the concierge whether she was in.
“Yes, I’ve not seen her go out for two days.”
Philip ran upstairs and knocked at the door. There was no reply. He called her name. The door was locked, and on bending down he found the key was in the lock…
“Oh, my God, I hope she hasn’t done something awful,” he cried aloud.
He ran down and told the porter that she was certainly in the room. He had had a letter from her and feared a terrible accident. He suggested breaking open the door. The porter, who had been sullen and disinclined to listen, became alarmed; he could not take the responsibility of breaking into the room; they must go for the commissaire de police. They walked together to the bureau, and then they fetched a locksmith. Philip found that Miss Price had not paid the last quarter’s rent: on New Year’s Day she had not given the concierge the present which old-established custom led him to regard as a right. The four of them went upstairs, and they knocked again at the door. There was no reply. The locksmith set to work, and at last they entered the room. Philip gave a cry and instinctively covered his eyes with his hands. The wretched woman was hanging with a rope round her neck, which she had tied to a hook in the ceiling fixed by some previous tenant to hold up the curtains of the bed. She had moved her own little bed out of the way and had stood on a chair, which had been kicked away. it was lying on its side on the floor. They cut her down. The body was quite cold…
…The story which Philip made out in one way and another was terrible. One of the grievances of the women-students was that Fanny Price would never share their gay meals in restaurants, and the reason was obvious: she had been oppressed by dire poverty. He remembered the luncheon they had eaten together when first he came to Paris and the ghoulish appetite which had disgusted him: he realised now that she ate in that manner because she was ravenous. The concierge told him what her food had consisted of. A bottle of milk was left for her every day and she brought in her own loaf of bread; she ate half the loaf and drank half the milk at mid-day when she came back from the school, and consumed the rest in the evening. It was the same day after day. Philip thought with anguish of what she must have endured. She had never given anyone to understand that she was poorer than the rest, but it was clear that her money had been coming to an end, and at last she could not afford to come any more to the studio. The little room was almost bare of furniture, and there were no other clothes than the shabby brown dress she had always worn. Philip searched among her things for the address of some friend with whom he could communicate. He found a piece of paper on which his own name was written a score of times. It gave him a peculiar shock. He supposed it was true that she had loved him; he thought of the emaciated body, in the brown dress, hanging from the nail in the ceiling; and he shuddered. But if she had cared for him why did she not let him help her? He would so gladly have done all he could. He felt remorseful because he had refused to see that she looked upon him with any particular feeling, and now these words in her letter were infinitely pathetic: I can’t bear the thought that anyone else should touch me. She had died of starvation.
That scene from that book haunted me when I read it the first time at about 13 or 14, and it never stopped haunting me. Because Somerset Maugham painted that image in my young mind all those years ago, I have never stopped living by the dictum “feed the hungry.” So far as I am concerned, that is a commandment that must not be broken.
Hunger is not a motivator. Hunger is a scourge. A scourge for which there is no excuse in this country. When I read in today’s New York Times, while reaching for a second Biscotti, that hunger in the United States is at the highest point it has been since the Department of Agriculture started indexing the food security of Americans in 1995, according to a report released today.
The number of Americans who lacked reliable access to sufficient food shot up last year to its highest point since the government began surveying in 1995, the Agriculture Department reported on Monday.
In its annual report on hunger, the department said that 17 million American households, or 14.6 percent of the total, “had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year.” That was an increase from 13 million households, or 11.1 percent, the previous year.
The results provided a more human sense of the costs of a recession that has officially ended but continues to take a daily toll on households; it describes the plight not of a faceless General Motors or A.I.G. but of families with too little food on their children’s plates.
Indeed, while children are usually shielded from the worst effects of deprivation, many more were affected last year than the year before. The number of households in which both adults and children experienced “very low food security” rose by more than half, to 506,000 in 2008 from 323,000 in 2007, according to the report.
Overall, one-third of all the families that are affected by hunger, or 6.7 million households, were classified as having very low food security, meaning that members of the household had too little to eat or saw their eating habits disrupted during 2008. That was 2 million households more than in 2007.
There is something deeply, fundamentally wrong when so many people in this, the richest nation in the world, have so little security in the knowledge of where their next meal is coming from.
Crossposted from They Gave Us a Republic
To be sure, some states are worse than Missouri about punishing the poor with state income taxes. But we’re bad enough:
Poor families in Missouri continue to face substantial state income tax liability, according to a new report released today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Single working parents with two children, earning $14,000 or more in Missouri , must pay income tax. The poverty line for this type of family is $17,165. A married couple with two children pays income tax if the household salary is $17,600 or more, well below the poverty level of $22,017 annually.
The state ekes a meager amount of blood out of those poor turnips instead of taking an extra pint from the wealthiest:
Missouri’s Income Tax brackets were established in 1931 and have not been adjusted since. As a result, all Missourians who earn at least $9,000 of adjusted gross income per year are taxed at the same rate of 6 percent, no matter how high or low their income is.
“A single mother of two earning $14,000 a year is taxed at the same rate as someone making $1 million a year. That just doesn’t make sense,” said Amy Blouin, executive director of the Missouri Budget Project. “We should modernize our tax structure to help working families struggling to escape poverty become economically successful, not tax them deeper into poverty.”
Essentially, then, Missouri has a flat tax. Other states have a modicum of compassion:
A majority of states and the federal government do not tax families living in poverty. Fourteen states not only avoid taxing poor families, but also offer tax credits that provide refunds to families with incomes at the poverty line. These credits offset additional state taxes, including the general revenue sales tax. This helps support families’ work efforts and reduces poverty.
But in Missouri, we agree with Marie: let them eat cake.
Via Matthew Yglesias, a nifty website gives you a demographic profile of your ZIP code. Something that stands out in my area: there’s a 9.4% unemployment rate, yet a whopping 24.3% of my neighbors live below the poverty line.
Incidentally, the highest poverty rate of any ZIP code in the state is 69.2%, and it’s not in any inner city, but rather in Brownwood, MO, just southwest of Cape Girardeau.
What’s it like in your neck of the woods?