Tag Archive for poverty

Falling Through the Cracks

STOP ROMNEY!

The 1% are the real poor – spiritually bankrupt.

From my years of work in providing care for disabled people. I am well aware of the number of people who “fall through the cracks” of our vaunted welfare system. When one is disabled and cannot work, for whatever reason, it is “the Christian thing to do” for society to help them avoid the inevitable ruin for them and their families. However, for many the system as it currently exists falls far short of that target.

One family man of my acquaintance has fallen through that proverbial crack and, as the result his very life and the continuation of his whole family is endangered. As the result of construction work injuries that broke his back, coupled with the extreme hard physical effort expended in working as a roustabout in the gas fields, he could no longer do that kind of work and had to give it up.

As a man who was only in his thirties, he determined to make a living by doing odd jobs, which he did for a period of years as his health continued to decline. As the recession crept up, it was harder to make enough money to support his family so his wife of twenty years began working in the office of a provider of services for the disabled and, for a few years, made enough money to sustain the family while he played “Mr. Mom” for their two sons and worked part time at any odd jobs he could get.

They managed quite well for a few years but, eventually, the strain began its own vengeance and he developed ulcers which sometimes caused him intense pain. The recession deepened and his odd jobs became harder to find and ceased. His wife’s employer, a contractor for the state, began to be squeezed by state budget cuts until they were forced to cut the salaries of their employees. She helped her husband apply for his Social Security disabilty benefits. His application was denied because he had not been working under “covered” employment for too long. Then application was made through the Social and Rehabiliation offices. There they were told that the wife’s income alone would only allow them to receive food stamps.

Then their oldest son turned eighteen, graduated from high school and then left home. With one less person in the house, the food stamps disappeared! This year, the younger son turned eighteen and then graduated from high school. Now he can’t even qualify as a dependent for tax purposes unless he goes to college, which he would love to do. However, in the process of evaluation, it was learned that this proud graduate of the special education classes of our school system failed the entrance examinations because of a “reading comprehension problem.” Sorry, but the scholarships and additional fees paid by his parents are non-refundable!

As problems are wont to do, they keep getting worse. Two days after he finally received a diagnosis of duodenal ulcers, the kind that are prone to rupture and cause one to bleed to death internally, he was moving a very heavy object in his own yard and caused a groin rupture. So, here they are with no medical insurance coverage, a gross family income which cannot pay all their expenses, and the threat of death hanging over them. Unless they take the option offered by the Republican politicians by showing up in a hospital emergency room and “free-loading” the necessary treatment, proving that it is no answer at all, the man is simply living on borrowed time. They know that the collection agency will hound them until hell freezes over in their efforts to collect every single dime. The irony of this situation is that, except for the fact that our Governor has stated that he would not accept the offer made by “Obomneycare” to increase the levels of poverty in Medicaid adjudications, they could, at least, receive the needed medical care under its provisions.

Is it the prevailing theory of the Republicans that this is the way our America should run? Should we give tax breaks to the filthy rich and let the poor just die because they are not able to do sufficient work to maintain life? Is this what the many generations of my family, including five of my brothers, fought and many died, to preserve for posterity? Is this the society we want to leave for our own descendents? If this is not a nightmare, I never want to wake up.

This writer is an octogenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.

Extreme Inequality or Democracy?

Reposted from CounterCurrents.org

Last autumn, likely due to the Occupy movement, there was a shift of media attention from debt reduction and the cutting of vital public programs (for example, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) to the issue of extreme wealth and income inequality in America. Extreme inequality is of concern for many reasons, but Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis provided perhaps the most crucial reason when he said: ” 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 . “

Many of those who support grossly unequal outcomes attempt to distract the public from the critical extreme inequality in wealth and income here by stressing equal opportunity as the key. Incredibly, they seem to think that we have equal opportunity in America. However, Paul Krugman ‘s January 8th column , ” America ‘ s Unlevel Field “, clearly points out that the playing field in the U.S. today is definitely not anywhere close to being level.

Despite the terribly unequal opportunities that exist, Americans have generally accepted the idea of some reasonable level of wealth and income inequality. The public ‘ s acceptance sprang from the idea that some people have special talents or make special contributions that merit greater rewards.

However, two factors have undercut this support. First, there is a weakening of the connection between reward and merit. In addition, we have now reached an obscene level of inequality that is exemplified in a report from the Heritage Institute . Based on data from 2000, the Heritage Institute showed that CEO pay for major U.S. corporations was wildly out of line with those of our economic competitors. For example the average pay for CEOs in Japan was 10 times the average worker’s wage compared to 531 times here. Of the 26 countries in the report, Brazil had the second largest inequality with a value of 57.

The obscene rise in this inequality in the U.S. is striking, going from a value of 24 times in 1965 to 42 times in 1980 to 85 times in 1990. More recent data show that the U.S. value declined from the 531 times in 2000 to well over 300 times the typical worker’s pay in 2010 . Note that the comparisons are affected by how many major corporations are included in the studies. For example, another estimate for the U.S. in 2000 was 300 times compared to the 531 times mentioned above; regardless, the U.S. is way out of line compared to our economic competitors and the change over time is appalling.

The Heritage Institute report included 2004 and 2006 quotes from Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, that address both merit and extreme inequality. According to the report, in a May 2004 letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett wrote about the inadequacy of corporate governance structures among U.S. companies. “(If) Corporate America is serious about reforming itself, CEO pay remains the acid test.” Buffett added: “The results aren’t encouraging.” Buffett criticized lavish pay packages and the “lapdog behavior” of directors, calling the situation an “epidemic of greed.”

In a 2006 shareholder report, Buffett stated: “Too often, executive compensation in the U.S. is ridiculously out of line with performance.” “Getting fired can produce a particularly bountiful payday for a CEO. Indeed, he can “earn” more in that single day, while cleaning out his desk, than an American worker earns in a lifetime of cleaning toilets. Forget the old maxim about nothing succeeding like success: Today, in the executive suite, the all-too-prevalent rule is that nothing succeeds like failure.”

Extreme inequality is even more problematic when it results from questionable behavior and/or political connections. Consider that those in the financial sector, whose unethical and immoral practices almost collapsed the financial system, were not held accountable for their actions. Talk about the lack of a moral hazard! Instead, besides initially profiting from fraud, they became even wealthier due to the taxpayer-funded bailout of the financial sector.

Changes in the tax system played a major role in increasing the level of inequality in America over the past decades. For example, the corporate share of federal taxes went from 28% in the 1950s to an average of roughly 10% over the 2001 to 2010 period. In addition, the top marginal individual tax rate dropped from 91% in 1954 to 35% today. Cuts in the top capital gains taxes for long-term gains from 28% to 15% have primarily benefited those at the top of the wealth scale. Politicians have also greatly weakened the estate tax that worked to lessen inequality somewhat. These changes certainly have played a major role in creating the extreme inequality we see today.

Our method of financing political campaigns, some would call it legalized bribery, makes it particularly easy for large corporations and the wealthy to push for tax reductions and tax loopholes at the expense of small business competitors and the public. Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) and Perfectly Legal : The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich–and Cheat Everybody Else , two books by Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston, provide numerous examples of this corruption and other questionable business practices by large corporations. America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? and several other books by investigative reporters and twice Pulitzer Prize winners Donald Barlett and James Steele also address how the tax code is manipulated to the benefit of the rich and powerful. In The Tyranny of Oil , Antonia Juhasz details how huge energy and financial corporations greatly profit from their corruption of the political system, and how the public bears the cost. Among her many examples are the government’s failure to enforce anti-trust laws and its creation of the “Enron loophole”.

If compensation were indeed based on merit, Americans could accept a reasonable level of inequality. However, as shown above, besides merit, income and wealth are often linked to many other factors, including the corruption of politicians.

Given the dire straits – high levels of unemployment and underemployment, homelessness, lack of health insurance, home foreclosures, huge credit card debts and college loan debts, shortages of food – that many Americans face today, our extreme inequality is intolerable. The current situation demands a drastic overhaul of our corrupt political/economic system to end and to prevent future extreme inequality. Unless we act now, control by the wealthy and powerful will be solidified.

Ron Forthofer a retired professor of biostatistics from the University of Texas School of Public Health. Since his retirement,he has been a volunteer for peace and social justice. In addition, he was a Green Party candidate for Congress and for governor of Colorado.

How many poor people do you know?

You can't eat the bible...

You can't eat the bible...

This is a question that should be asked of any person who is running for a national office. We don’t mean how many poor people one sees on the streets as one drives by in an automobile, not just those who show up at the soup kitchen with whom a photo opportunity is in progress. We mean the people who live constantly at or slightly above the poverty line, constantly worrying as they juggle their meager budget to try to prioritize and keep their heads above the fiscal disaster that lurks everywhere, who work even when they’re ailing because they cannot feed the family without that paycheck and “doctors cost money.”

Pediatricians are becoming alarmed because more women are foregoing prenatal medical care and even having their babies without medical assistance of any kind due to lack of money to pay. Without free breakfasts and lunches at school many children would be going all day with an empty stomach when Daddy’s or Mommy’s money runs out before the next payday.

Do you know any of these people? Have you visited them just because you value their company and are interested in their opinions? Have you asked them to your home for an evening? If you answer in the negative, something is lacking, not only in your knowledge base but in your religious education. If you did know them, you would know of how offended they would be if you offered to give them money, but how willing they would be to find the time to do a job for you if you were to need some temporary chores. However, they would happily do the same chore for you without pay should you give ask them.

You see, these people are not the scum of society as so many politicians would term them. Your familial antecedents would have called them “the salt of the earth.” They are the same kind of people who would sell themselves into bondage for the opportunity to take their families and their poor possessions aboard a frail ship to reach a far-off land where they could work hard to build a better life for their children and for generations to come. They would serve out their bondage, gather their belongings again, and set out, bag and baggage, for lands unknown in order to fell trees for a shelter so they could till the soil and create a home.

But now we live in a settled land where everything belongs to somebody else; there is no virgin land there for the taking, there are no more frontiers to settle and there is no choice but for mankind to learn to live with one another. We are all in the same boat. The problem is that too many want to stand in the bow and captain the journey while those who man the oars are taken for granted. As the boat starts to sink from having the weight unevenly distributed by too many captains, those captains think the answer is to scuttle the oarsmen! Thus, we are faced with silly ideas like “trickle down.”

There was a time that candidates would campaign door-to-door, visiting with potential; voters in their homes and listening to their concerns. Now campaigns are limited to televised speeches and rallies among the faithful where the candidates never talk to anybody who is not already disposed to support them. The questions usually come from those who already know the canned answers which they will receive, and neither candidate nor voter actually learn anything.

It is easy for a candidate like Ron Paul to espouse leaving sick and uninsured to just die and to receive great applause from his supporters which leads him to believe that his answer was correct. Do you suppose Congressman Paul has any close friends or relatives who are truly poor? So why should he care should a constituent or a hired minion should die for lack of medical care?

To some of a gentler persuasion, it would seem necessary for a successful candidate to know those whom he is bound to represent in the government of the United States. Try asking the question at the next political rally you attend, “How many poor people do you really know?”

This writer is an octogenarian who has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.