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Wealth and Poverty in America


Wealth and Poverty in America        Gerry OShea

Ask any political consultant in the United States what drives people to the polls on election day and you are very likely to hear that kitchen table issues are the number one consideration. Most would agree with James Carville, President Clinton’s guru in the 90’s, that “it is the economy stupid.”

Using that yardstick Joe Biden is in deep trouble in his 2024 presidential election bid. Inflation remains a serious problem in America. Gas prices fell to close to $3.00 a gallon but they are moving up lately and are touching $4.00 in some places in New York. Staple family food items remain significantly higher than when the Democrats took over the White House in January 2021.

No wonder that the President’s performance rating hovers around 40%. Yet he has already won record bipartisan congressional approval for spending close to two trillion dollars for much-needed infrastructure projects and for unprecedented investment in decarbonizing the economy. The unemployment rate is at its lowest in fifteen years with many employers urging a loosening of immigration laws to entice more workers into the country.

In addition, recent macroeconomic numbers reveal that  United States corporations are doing amazingly well. According to a recent edition of The Economist magazine, the nation’s GDP accounts for about a quarter of the world’s total output.

 America’s dominance of the richest nations is startling. Today it accounts for 58% of the  GDP of the affluent G7 countries – away up from 40% thirty years ago.

This country has increased its workforce by close to a third since 1990 in comparison with the European Union’s growth figure of 10%. To complete the rosy picture, the five biggest corporate funders in the vital area of research and development are located in the United States.

The future looks bright for generations to come as American capitalism promises days of wine and roses.

Yet Americans are very worried and seemingly not impacted by their country’s surging GDP. The bright news about the ebullient economy has not reached the people at the kitchen table in any part of the United States.

In a massive vote of no confidence in their country by Americans, close to a massive 80% told pollsters that they believe that their children will be worse off economically than they are themselves. This result comes from a continuing annual survey which goes back to 1990 when only half of that number saw the future in such pessimistic terms.

The GDP growth is real. All this new money is sloshing around in the corporate sector enriching those who already enjoy the high life of the plutocratic class.

Bernie Sanders, using clear and unassailable facts, provides a very different perspective. He preaches that we have more income and wealth inequality than at any time in the last 100 years. He reveals that in 2022 three multibillionaires owned more wealth than the whole bottom half of American society – about 160 million citizens.

In an illuminating study done at the turn of the 21st century about CEO’s salaries, liberals opined that the top man in a company should earn four times the average employee’s salary, while respondents who identified as politically conservative suggested four times as appropriate. Back in the 1960’s the multiple was close to single figures and the men at the top still lived in luxury. Today they are paid more than 350 times the shop floor worker.

According to the Rand Corporation, $50 trillion in wealth has been redistributed from the bottom 90% to the top 1%, mainly because a growing percentage of corporate profits has been flowing into the stock portfolios of the wealthy and powerful – synonymous terms.

The so-called trickle-down theory which claims that as the rich get richer there is an overflow that somehow makes its way downwards. This is a convenient rationalization spun out by plutocrats designed to justify their own vast accumulations. For most Americans this torrent of cash allegedly flowing downwards qualifies as an economic mirage, a fantasy.

Despite a lifetime of work half of older Americans are trying to survive on less than $25,000 annually. Many rely entirely on a monthly social security check unless they can pick up what is usually a menial job to supplement their government check.

The few who were lucky to carry a union card do much better because they receive a pension as well. Unfortunately, that only applies to around 6% of employees in private industry in the United States. Workers who try to organize run into major roadblocks erected by company executives making it very difficult for union organizers to achieve their goal.

Polls show that 70% of Americans affirm that union membership would upgrade the status and benefits of employees, and President Biden regularly applauds an organized workforce, but the determined power and abundant money of corporate America is successfully stymying any real progress in this area.

The sad litany continues and demands public airing by more than Senator Sanders. About one-third of the US workforce – fifty-two million people – earn less than $15 an hour, according to Oxfam America. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t been raised in over sixteen years.

Children in the United States experience far higher poverty rates than in other Western countries. One child in six, close to 12 million, is deemed seriously under-nourished in the richest country in the world. This cries out to heaven for new policies that ensure easement of their plight.

As part of President Biden’s program of subsidies to help poor families in 2021 parents got substantial monthly help from the IRS. The program was independently reviewed and shown to have a really positive impact, especially in allowing many women to pay for childcare and return to the workforce. However, when it came up for continued funding every Republican in the Senate and the House opposed it and the program died.

This marginalization of the poor and the middle class in favor of the rich and even more the super-rich in America represents a breakdown of moral leadership. Our value system is all askew. The core Christian belief that communal wellbeing must always trump individual wealth gathering is disregarded.

If President Biden focused on this issue of a demoralized electorate, of people crying out for a second New Deal, he would not be looking at approval rates around 40%.

Gerry OShea blogs at


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