Remember that old joke they used to tell — and maybe still do — in luxury retail circles? The customer, precious product in hand, walks over to a haughty sales clerk at a high-end emporium and timidly asks: “How much does this cost.” “If you have to ask,” the sales clerk smiles back, “you can’t afford it.” How much more unequal have we become in 2020? This question demands that we turn that old joke inside-out: We have to ask because we can’t afford not to know. And we can’t afford not to know because inequality is killing us. We have to know exactly what we’re facing. And what we’re facing, the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have just reminded us, doesn’t look good.
It is not entirely true that COVID-19 does not distinguish between attacking and, above all, killing. It is possible that biologically there are no differences in skin color, age, or sex, in any of the case studies that will have to be conducted carefully once we have all the details of the cases of infected and dead. But one thing we know already is the vast differences and inequalities in the ways the pandemic is being fought. It is not the same as the risk of contagion for the delivery man for Amazon who must go out to work every day because otherwise his/her children will go to bed without eating, to the risk taken by the owner of the same company who, while being socially very distant in his mansion, is at the top of the Forbes list with a fortune of 138 billion dollars.
I want to highlight a single eye-popping statistic from a recent Federal Reserve report. Between 1989 and 2018, the top 1 percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion. The bottom 50 percent actually saw its net worth decrease by $900 billion over the same period. What this reveals is a 2018 where the top 1 percent owns nearly $30 trillion of assets while the bottom half owns less than nothing, meaning they have more debts than they have assets. This follows from 30 years in which the top 1 percent massively grew their net worth while the bottom half saw a slight decline in its net worth.
April 4 marks the 50th anniversary of the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. American history rightly honors King as one of its most celebrated civil rights leaders. Growing up, I remember learning about his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. In school, my teachers always highlighted him as a peaceful, non-violent protester against segregation, and a preacher who promoted messages of love and justice for all. He was all those things. But that’s only one part of King’s legacy. King was actually very radical about his vision of change for America. He didn’t just criticize segregation — he recognized the need for deep, structural changes to our entire economic and political system.
Using the Survey of Consumer Finances, I calculated various wealth series for young families with heads below the age of 35. Here is median net worth for young families. I include both the net worth concept used by the Federal Reserve and a modified net worth concept that excludes vehicles. Insofar as vehicles are rapidly depreciating consumer durables, many argue that they should not be counted as assets for these purposes. Without these vehicles, the median young family had a net worth of $1,250 in 2016. This was down from the $7,846 peak in 1995.
The sobering assessment at the end of 2017 by Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, concerning the 40+ million Americans living in poverty, left a question unasked: Why have there been so few effective grassroots political revolts against inequality and material deprivation in the United States? The seeming lack of class consciousness is even more surprising when we consider that economic insecurity doesn’t just affect those below the poverty level: over 215 million Americans–which I count as 66 percent of the population–couldn’t cover a $1000 emergency with the money in their savings account. That’s over five times as many of us who technically live in poverty, and it suggests that economic insecurity is now an intrinsic feature of the American identity.
By Gus Bagakis for Truthout - Housing is the necessary precondition for security, identity, emotional well-being, work, leisure and community. There is no greater condemnation of capitalism than its inability to provide adequate housing for those who produce its wealth -- the working class. The high percentage of people of color who are homeless points to the wealth divide between the white and non-white working class, based on the historical legacy of racism and the building of capitalism out of slavery. The ruling class explanation relies on blaming the victims, arguing that people experiencing homelessness are in some way individually incompetent. Other, more perceptive, yet incomplete explanations point to shortages of affordable housing, privatization of civic services, investment speculation in housing, poorly planned urbanization, as well as poverty and unemployment. Actually, the fear of homelessness helps capitalism maintain its power. In the days of industrial capitalism, the unemployed were used by the ruling capitalist class to signal to the workers that they were lucky to have their jobs, and if they rebelled, they could be unemployed. Now, after the 2007-8 recession, as we move further into post-industrial capitalism, the homeless are a warning to those potentially rebellious workers unhappy with their loss of wages, lack of stability and benefits, and to students of the zero generation: zero jobs, zero hope, zero possibilities, zero employment, who are in debt for their schooling. The message is: Accept the declining status quo or end up homeless.
By Jill Richardson of Other Words - Inequality in America has been growing for decades, stymying our national potential and contributing to the growing political rift in the country. According to estimates by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act introduced in the House of Representatives would disproportionately benefit the richest 1 percent of Americans. The ITEP estimates reveal that nationwide, the richest 1 percent of earners would receive a 31 percent share of the tax cuts in 2018 – and by 2027, the richest 1 percent would receive a 48 percent share, leaving the remaining 99 percent to share roughly half the tax benefits. What the ITEP estimates cannot reveal is the lost potential in federal investment represented by this reallocation of resources to the 1 percent. The House bill is designed to increase the deficit by no more than $1.5 trillion over ten years – the equivalent of about a year of federal discretionary spending. The loss of revenue will trigger other choices, as decision makers in Congress either accede to a higher than customary level of national debt, or face political pressures to drastically reduce spending on federal programs and services. Pressure to cut spending could result in losses to popular federal programs ranging from education to health care and infrastructure, and more.
By Staff of Food & Water Watch - WASHINGTON – New analysis published today details the disproportionate burdens of air and water contamination and serious human health effects placed on low-income communities of color by market-based pollution trading schemes. The report, from the advocacy organizations Food & Water Watch and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, shows that under many of these plans – like California’s notorious “cap-and-trade” program – localized pollution and public health impacts actually increase in lower-income minority communities. Meanwhile, California Governor Jerry Brown was at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) last week, touting his state’s cap-and-trade program and urging European leaders to adopt similar policies. Elsewhere, political leaders in states throughout the country have publicly endorsed pollution trading plans or indicated interest in exploring them. Polluters have traditionally sited their facilities in lower-income communities of color, resulting in a disproportionate, localized environmental and public health burden.
By Bob Lord for Inequality - The family that has made billions off trick-or-treat candy has gone generations without paying any appreciable tax on its enormous fortune. And the Trump tax plan, if adopted, would ax a huge chunk of the tax on the family’s income! The Mars family has made billions selling us M&Ms, Snickers, and countless other Halloween treats for a century now. But when it comes to paying tax, the Mars family seems to be all tricks and no treats. In fact, the family’s latest tax trick may have cost the U.S. Treasury a whopping $10 billion. What could $10 billion do? That’s the cost of delivering prenatal care to hundreds of thousands of expectant moms under Medicaid, an essential program that President Trump and the GOP Congress plan to cut by up to $1 trillion. According to the current U.S. tax code, any American worth $25 billion can expect 40 percent of that, or $10 billion, to go to Uncle Sam in estate tax, the federal levy on the personal fortunes of deep pockets who kick the bucket. Forrest Mars Jr. had a $25-billion fortune when he died in July 2016. But the Mars family has apparently been able to avoid estate tax on that entire $25 billion. How do we know? Researchers at Forbes and Bloomberg, the two business publications that track America’s billionaire wealth, have some fascinating numbers for us.
By Jake Johnson for Common Dreams - In an analysis (pdf) published Thursday that throws into stark relief the "unjust and unsustainable" nature of what economists have termed the New Gilded Age, the Swiss financial firm UBS found that the wealth of the world's billionaires grew by 17 percent in 2016, bringing their combined fortune to a record $6 trillion -- more than double the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom. The report also found that there are 1,542 billionaires in the world and more than 563 in the United States alone, more than any other country. Josef Stadler, lead author of the UBS analysis, told the Guardian that the firm's findings demonstrate that the world is "now two years into the peak of the second Gilded Age." The extent of the world's wealth concentration -- just eight men now own as much wealth as half of the global population -- raises a number of questions, one of which is whether the world's population will continue to tolerate such vast inequities, Stadler said. "We're at an inflection point," Stadler argued. "Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about. The problem is the power of interest on interest -- that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?"
By Bill Quigley. A federation of local cooperatives and mutual aid networks, Cooperation Jackson, has many concrete forms including an urban farming coop, a food coop, a cooperative credit union, a hardware coop, and a cooperative insurance plan. They plan to be an incubator for more coop startups, a school, a training center, a cooperative credit union, a bank, a community land trust, community financial institutions like credit unions, housing cooperative, childcare cooperative, solar and retrofitting cooperative, tool lending and resource libraries, community energy production. They are also working to build an organizing institute and a workers union. Cooperation Jackson is an economic movement, a human rights movement and a movement insistent on environmentally sustainable progress. They work for clean air and water, zero waste, and against toxic industries.
By Paul Buchheit for Common Dreams - The poverty threshold is still based on a formula from the 1960s, when food expenses were a much greater part of the family budget. It hasn't kept up with other major expenses. Since 1980, food costs have gone up by 100%, housing 250%, health care 500%, and college tuition 1,000%. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) says, "If the same basic methodology developed in the early 1960s was applied today, the poverty thresholds would be over three times higher than the current thresholds." Three times higher! The median household income in the U.S. in 2016 was $59,039. The Economic Policy Institute's 2015 Family Budget Calculator determined that the median budget for a two-parent, two-child family is $63,741. As CRS concluded, that's about three times higher than the current poverty threshold. In 2014, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, median household expenses were $36,800, against income of about $54,000. But that includes very little for wealth-building investments, such as short- and long-term savings, college education, and life insurance. After accounting for annual outlays for these essential and/or typical family expenses, the median household in the lower third was $2,300 in debt.
By Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Lauren Kirchner and Surya Mattu for ProPublica - For decades, auto insurers have been observed to charge higher average premiums to drivers living in predominantly minority urban neighborhoods than to drivers with similar safety records living in majority white neighborhoods. Insurers have long defended their pricing by saying that the risk of accidents is greater in those neighborhoods, even for motorists who have never had one. But a first-of-its-kind analysis by ProPublica and Consumer Reports, which examined auto insurance premiums and payouts in California, Illinois, Texas and Missouri, has found that many of the disparities in auto insurance prices between minority and white neighborhoods are wider than differences in risk can explain. In some cases, insurers such as Allstate, Geico and Liberty Mutual were charging premiums that were on average 30 percent higher in zip codes where most residents are minorities than in whiter neighborhoods with similar accident costs. Our findings document what consumer advocates have long suspected: Despite laws in almost every state banning discriminatory rate-setting, some minority neighborhoods pay higher auto insurance premiums than do white areas with similar payouts on claims. This disparity may amount to a subtler form of redlining, a term that traditionally refers to denial of services or products to minority areas.