Today, more than 47 million Americans lose some or all of their food stamp benefits because Congress can’t agree on a new farm bill. Most are in families whose breadwinners have a job but the job doesn’t pay enough to lift them out of poverty. Almost 22 percent of America’s children are now poor, and the typical family continues to lose ground. In fact, most Americans are still hurting: In the most recent Washington Post-ABC poll, 75 percent rated the state of the economy as “negative” or “poor.” So why does Congress continue to whack away at services so many Americans desperately need? Why is all the discussion in Washington about deficits instead of about jobs and inequality? I blame Republicans but Democrats in Washington bear some of the responsibility. In last year’s fiscal cliff debate neither party pushed to extend the payroll tax holiday or find other ways to help the working middle class and working poor. Here’s a clue: A new survey of families in the top 10 percent of net worth (done by the American Affluence Research Center) shows they’re feeling better than they’ve felt since 2007, before the Great Recession -- largely because they own 80 percent of the stock market, and the stock market is up 24 percent this year. The top 10 percent provide almost all campaign contributions. And almost all members of Congress are drawn from their ranks. The bottom 90 percent of Americans -- most of whom are still suffering from the Great Recession -- are less and less visible.
As a member of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, I am more than aware that a $17 trillion dollar national debt and a $700 billion deficit are serious problems that must be addressed.
But I am also aware that real unemployment is close to 14 percent, that tens of millions of Americans are working for horrendously low wages, that more Americans are now living in poverty than ever before and that wealth and income inequality in the United States is now greater than in any other major country -- with the gap between the very rich and everyone else growing wider and wider.
Further, when we talk about the national budget, it is vitally important that we remember how we got into this fiscal crisis in the first place and who was responsible for it. Let us never forget that when Bill Clinton left office in January of 2001, the U.S. had a budget surplus of $236 billion with projected budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. During that time, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected a 10-year budget surplus of $5.6 trillion, enough to erase the entire national debt by the end of 2011.
What happened? How did we, in a few short years, go from a large budget surplus into horrendous debt? The answer is not that complicated. Under President Bush we went to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and didn't pay for them. We just put them on the credit card. The cost of those wars is estimated to be between $4 trillion to $6 trillion. Further, Bush and Congress passed an expensive prescription drug program that was unpaid for. They also reduced revenue by giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations. On top of all that, the Wall Street collapse and ensuing recession significantly reduced tax receipts and increased spending for unemployment compensation and food stamps, further exacerbating the deficit situation.
Bernie Sanders: Obamacare's reforms are a welcome but small step. To give all Americans healthcare as a right, we need a fair, efficient solution...
It is unconscionable that in one of the most advanced nations in the world, there are nearly 50 million people who lack health insurance and millions more who have burdensome co-payments and deductibles. In fact, some 45,000 Americans die each year because they do not get to a doctor when they should. In terms of life expectancy, infant mortality and other health outcomes, the United States lags behind almost every other advanced country.
Despite this unimpressive record, the US spends almost twice as muchper person on healthcare as any other nation. As a result of an incredibly wasteful, bureaucratic, profit-making and complicated system, the US spends 17% of its gross domestic product – approximately $2.7tn annually– on healthcare. While insurance companies, drug companies, private hospitals and medical equipment suppliers make huge profits, Americans spend more and get less for their healthcare dollars.
What should the US be doing to improve this abysmal situation?
Governments usually use eminent domain powers to displace people. But one hardscrabble Bay Area city is going to the mat to do just the opposite—stabilize its economy and keep residents where they are.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” How to find the balance.
Margaret Reeve Panahi's insight:
Beautiful. Always seeking the ever changing balances in our lives, work/home, ambition/satisfaction etcetera. Here is another balance that I don't usually think about, but is present all the time nonetheless.
In recent years, the rich have seen their wealth grow dramatically while the poor and middle class have basically flatlined. It’s no accident, argue Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in their book Winner-Take-All Politics. The infographic below, which draws from Hacker and Pierson’s book, explains how our politicians — on both sides of the aisle — fell under the spell of corporate dollars and re-engineered our economic system to favor the wealthy. The dark green line shows the income trajectory for the top 1 percent since 1970, while the light green line shows the bottom 90 percent. Click the orange triangles to learn about critical turning points that helped create the skewed system we have today
Frances Fox Piven: Poverty has been increasing pretty rapidly, at least since 2000, and then there was another big spike with the financial crisis. The official poverty rate is about 15 percent [but] I think the most reasonable estimate is that one out of three Americans are now poor. The official poverty line in the United States is set much lower than it is in other rich countries. That’s because it’s based on the cost of a market basket of basic foods multiplied by three to cover all other costs, and those other costs have inflated much more rapidly than food costs. I want to count people who in other prosperous countries would also be called poor.
We have another measure which we call extreme poverty — people who are living at half of the official poverty line — and the numbers in extreme poverty are increasing rapidly too. It’s a big problem, an inexcusable problem. Profits are increasing; the aggregate amount of wealth in this country does not in anyway justify having such a large pool of poor people and near poor people. We’re wiping out whatever progress has been made in the last half century in decreasing poverty.