Yes. It is time we did something about the fact that there are more than 46,000,000 people in America who are living in poverty. If we were to seriously address this shameful situation, we could virtually eliminate poverty.
Most of my readers know the facts. The extent of inequality in America, of both income and of wealth, is far greater than it has been in decades. The top 1% of us earn more each year than all those in the bottom 50%, combined. The top 1% now earns 20% of all the income that Americans earn.
The wealthiest 400 people in America (400!) now hold more wealth than the bottom 150,000,000 of us, combined. The top 1% holds as much wealth as the bottom 90%, combined. The wealthiest 1% of Americans own more than 40% of America’s wealth.
Michael Moore discusses the extent of poverty in America and contrasts it with the enormous wealth that is enjoyed by the 1%. “That’s an absolute crime,” he says. “It is immoral; and these guys are just posting the largest profits ever.”
This extreme, unconscionable disparity naturally causes terrible, unnecessary suffering for so many of our people. Poverty, as we know, contributes mightily to problems related to health, education, crime, etc. Furthermore, and very importantly, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few very seriously weakens our democracy.
Certainly, the Citizens United decision has exacerbated the problem of the wealthy holding undue influence upon our national policies. Even prior to that terrible Supreme Court decision, however, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few has been detrimental to our national well being and has perverted our democracy. Our members of Congress, of course, are often influenced by campaign contributions. Corporations and the wealthy have substantially taken control of our Congress and, through inadequate regulation, have been able to implement policies that adversely affect us, with regard to our food, our environment, our health, our nation’s foreign policy, and our economy. Simply put, critical policy is now often made by minimally regulated corporations or by a government that is overly influenced by the wealthy. Decisions are made based upon the maximization of profit and the furthering of the concentration of wealth, rather than upon serving the best interests of our people. The extreme concentration of wealth has been detrimental to our nation’s economy and has very much weakened our democracy. It has directly contributed to the huge increase in the number of Americans who now live in poverty.
If we are to eradicate poverty in America, and if we are to strengthen our democracy, we need to heed the words of Justice Louis Brandeis. “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Now that so many in the middle class have been struggling or have fallen into poverty, it seems that more Americans are inclined to acknowledge the problem of poverty in America. Our slow recovery from the recession, the increase in the number of us living in poverty, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the resurgence of an appreciation for the importance of labor unions have all contributed to the increased extent to which Americans are talking about poverty. It is essential that we talk about poverty in America. We must pressure our representatives in Congress to talk about it. We must insist that they take the necessary steps to eliminate poverty.
Dr. Cornel West, in discussing the extreme inequality of wealth in America, tells us quite bluntly, “There is something sick about that, my brother.”
The recently published study, “Social Justice in the OECD: How Do the Member States Compare,” clearly and emphatically points out the poor standing of the United States, when compared to other nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Of the thirty-one countries scored for “Poverty Prevention,” the United States performed worse than all countries, except Chile and Mexico. Twenty-eight countries –including Canada, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Portugal, Spain — all did a better job of preventing poverty among their people.
Likewise, in the areas of “Health” and “Access to Education”, the United States scored more poorly than most other nations. In the summary scores, rating each nation for “Social Justice,” the United States ranked as the 27th of the 31 countries studied.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee points out some very troubling statistics, shedding further light on the incidence of poverty in America. “The rates of poverty in our minority communities continue to be about twice the national average.” She correctly calls these data, “painful and shameful statistics.”
It is time that we insisted that the United States take the necessary steps to eliminate poverty and to achieve a just society.
Please check out this short video of commentary from Michael Moore, Cornel West, and Barbara Lee. The included clips are excerpted from videos that can be found here, here, and here.