Writer's note: Per the arrangement with my syndicators, these columns appear on this site a week after their newspaper release.)
^WEALTH GAP KEEPS GROWING@<
^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@<
^By BOB FRANKEN@=
^C.2010 Hearst Newspapers@=
WASHINGTON _ Novcember 11, 2010--You don't have to be a jazz fan to appreciate the genius of Billie Holiday. She was not just a brilliant singer but was also a remarkably perceptive writer.
Seventy years after she wrote ``God Bless the Child,’’ her lyrics resonate even more today:
``Them that's got shall get@<
``Them that's not shall lose@<
``So the Bible said and it still is news.’’@<
Theological scorekeepers agree she was referring to the Bible's Gospel of Matthew. The gap between ``Them that's got...’’ and ``Them that's not’’ indeed still is news, because it has grown to biblical proportions.
Our update comes from the U.S. Census Bureau and its study showing that in 2009, the income chasm between those at the top and bottom of our economy was the widest ever. The top tier of the nation's earners made nearly 50 percent of the pay, compared with 3.4 percent by those below the poverty line.
That's a 14.5 to 1 ratio, nearly double what it was in 1968. A large scale analysis of IRS income data by economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty found that in 2008 the richest one-hundredth of 1 percent, that's 14,000 U.S. families, possessed over 22 percent of our entire national wealth. The bottom, by which they mean the bottom 90 percent of the population, controlled 4 per cent.
Depressing Social Security statistics released in early November reveal that the top 72 wage earners in the United States made as much as the 19 million lowest wage earnings. And yes, ``depressing’’ is the right word. Saez and Piketty point out that this gap is the largest since 1928.
Why has this happened? Again?
Much of the answer has to do with the various regressive economic policies that our nation's leaders have written into law at the behest of their wealthy campaign contributors.
The prime example is the tax code's favoritism to the rich. It has proven impossible to crack. The road to change never seems to go anywhere because it is blockaded by those who want to preserve the status quo that has favored them greatly.
When their fiscal misadventures result in disaster, they're not the ones who suffer. In fact, as we've witnessed in this latest collapse, they have come out ahead of the game, while millions of others face desperation and financial failure.
Whenever anyone even discusses income inequality, he is castigated for waging ``class warfare.’’ Possible solutions such higher tax rates and elimination of some clever deductions used by the super rich are quickly dismissed as ``government overreach’’ or ``socialism."
Worse yet, the government is in a deep financial hole and the current political focus is on the federal budget deficit. Now, the first recommendations from the chairmen of President Obama's deficit commission that were announced this week emphasize precisely the kind of spending cuts to social programs that will make the nation's prosperity gap even more onerous.
Billie Holiday wrote her song back in 1941, as the Depression was ending amid the military buildup for World War II. The postwar period saw the remarkable expansion of a prosperous American middle class. In the last couple of decades, however, misguided policies have had the inevitable effect of squeezing the wealth out to the extremes.
The danger is that more and more of those in the middle will doubt that they have a stake in this system, where upward mobility is replaced by downward stagnation, except for the shrinking number of ``Them that's got.’’
(E-mail: bob(at)hearstdc.com; On the Web: www.bobfranken.tv)