Inequality, like a malignant tumor, is growing out of control, and the only response from Congress is to make it even worse. Those at the richest end of the nation seem to have lost all capacity for understanding the meaning and values of an interdependent society. They've convinced themselves that they deserve their passively accumulated windfalls, and that poorer people have only themselves to blame for their own misfortunes.
It's Getting Uglier Every Year
The average 1% household made nearly $2.6 million in the 12 months to mid-2017, mostly from the stock market. Here's how:
- The U.S. increased its wealth by over $8.5 trillion (see Table 2-4, mid-2016 to mid-2017).
- The 1% took $3.27 trillion of that (38.3 percent: see Table 6-5).
- Each of 1.26 million households, on average, took nearly $2.6 million. In greater detail, the poor segment of the 1% averaged about $1.44 million for the year, the .1% averaged about $7.2 million, and the .01% (12,600 households) averaged nearly $65 million in just the past year.
This is the second year in a row that the average 1% household has taken over $2.5 million of our national wealth. The pattern has worsened every year since the recession, as the U.S. stock market has more than tripled in value, with about 90 percent of the $18 trillion dollar gain going to the richest 10% of Americans. Despite all this, the super-rich are essentially blackmailing Congress into approving a 1%-pleasing tax bill by threatening to withhold their political payoffs.
Americans Dying, Congress Does Nothing
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were over 60,000 drug overdose deaths last year, and according to the National Institutes of Health about 88,000 Americans die each year from alcohol-related causes. The number of teenagers hospitalized for suicidal tendencies has doubled in the past 10 years.
The children of poor Americans would be hit hardest. The Republican plan excludes 10 million children whose parents work for low wages — that's about 1 in 7 of all U.S. children in working families. To turn the screws a little more, rich families would benefit more than the poor. According to one source, "a family making $1 million would get 44 times more money from the government than a single mother earning the minimum wage."
Americans Without Housing, Congress Does Nothing
More and more Americans cannot afford rent. There are only 12 rural counties in the whole country where a one-bedroom apartment is affordable for minimum-wage workers, based on the 30-percent-of-income standard. Between 2010 and 2016, according to Freddie Mac, the availability of low-income housing declined by over 60 percent.
How Can It Get Worse? Ask Congress
While underpaid American workers struggle with the basic needs of health and housing, households at the other end are each taking millions of dollars of our wealth, mostly from the surging stock market, tax-free until the stocks are cashed in.
Yet, unbelievably, Congress is considering the elimination of the alternative minimum tax, which is the only assurance that the nation's numerous tax avoiders will pay for some of their plentiful benefits. And it's considering the elimination of the estate tax, which will leave untaxed windfall fortunes in the hands of people who did nothing to earn them.
It's a frightening thought, but with inequality ripping us apart, and with few of our national leaders willing or able to confront the problem, we may never again be an equitable and functional society. That appears to be just fine with the 1%.
Paul Buchheit is the author of "Disposable Americans" (2017). He is an advocate for social and economic justice. His essays, videos, and poems can be found at YouDeserveFacts.org.