Gap Between Rich and Poor Grows
The wealth disparity is so large that the top tenth of the richest 1% made more money then the poorest third of American workers combined. In contrast, the 1979 I.R.S report showed that the poorest third made more then the top tenth 1% of our wealthiest citizens. Between 2003 and 2004 the poverty rate of U.S. workers also increased by 1.1 million citizens, bringing the total number of Americans living at or below the poverty line up to massive 37 million. Meanwhile the number of Americans without healthcare of any kind increased to 45.8 million in 2004.
What’s happening to the U.S. workforce? Why is the gap between rich and poor, or even the middle class and mega wealthy growing so wide? A major problem is that the federal minimum wage is stuck at a sickly $5.15 an hour, with some states adding a dollar or two on top of that wage. With the current cost of living in certain regions of the country such as the Northeast, the minimum wage is not enough to survive on. The average house cost in Rhode Island is close to $300,000 with most houses going for well over that price. The cost of gas has skyrocketed in recent years, and the price of goods and services have increased, yet the workers wages remain stagnant, not even increasing high enough to match the inflation rate as the I.R.S points out. It’s not just those working for minimum wage or slightly above that are suffering the crunch, all workers white collar and blue collar alike aren’t seeing their wages increase much. However, as New York University economist Edward N. Wolf points out, most of the wage increases have come in the from of stock market gains and sharp rises in pay for chief executives. American workers can’t afford homes in their own states any longer, nor the gas to fill their cars, but we can all take comfort that the CEO’s of the country have seen their salaries go up by 9.5% in single year!
While the bulk of American’s flounder, the Bush administration continues to push its tax cuts for the wealthy and seeks to make them permanent. Even in the light of a growing massive deficit and the declining welfare of a majority of its citizens, the powers that be will not remove the damaging tax cuts or even consider raising the minimum wage to a livable standard. The administration and its wealthy masters are playing a dangerous economic game at their own risk. Even Alan Greenspan as quoted by the Christian Science Monitor recently stated at a Joint Economic Committee hearing that, "The income gap between the rich and the rest of the US population has become so wide, and is growing so fast, that it might eventually threaten the stability of democratic capitalism itself.... The Fed chief than added that the 80 percent of the workforce represented by nonsupervisory workers has recently seen little, if any, income growth at all."
As Greenspan stated, Democratic Capitalism itself is threatened by the ever-increasing income gap. This problem has gone far beyond partisan jabs and political bickering, the entire structure of the system is on the verge of collapse. A nation that has such incredible wealth owes a certain level of security to all its citizens. It needs to be mindful that the poverty numbers decrease and do not increase, that its citizen’s wages rise above the inflation rates or at the very least match those rates. A nation such as this owes healthcare to its citizens so that they do not get struck with massive medical bills when an untimely emergency strikes them from their work or family life. And last, this country’s leaders need to understand that this is a nation of the people and by the people, not of the billionaires, and for the corporate elite.