Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Jan. 25, 26 or 27
Yes, as Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 campaign adopted as its reminder to the candidate: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
So maybe the political rhetoric will start focusing on pocketbook issues instead of foolish bombast fueling fear and hate, After all, the economy hits most Americans far harder than immigration, terrorism and starting more wars, says Les Leopold, author of “Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice.”
“Instead of using government to create jobs, we use government to fund prisons,” says Leopold. “Instead of a War on Poverty we have declared war on the poor.”
His 320-page paperback, which has plenty of impartial sources and illustrative charts, outlines the most vital factors that everyday people face:
1. The rich are getting richer, the rest of us aren’t. There’s always been a gap between the top 1 percent and the rest of the country, but for decades that division was mitigated by government policies on labor, banking and taxation. That changed.
“After 1980, the incomes of the top 1% exploded while the wages of the bottom 90% stagnated,” Leopold says.
2. Greed on Wall Street and by CEOs. The income difference between corporate bosses and average workers worsened.
“The gap between the pay of the top CEOs and the average worker jumped from 45 to 1 in 1970 to 829 to 1 today,” he says. “The game is rigged.”
3. The biggest banks are getting bigger. The nation’s top four banks, complicit in the financial meltdown of 2008, have grown even larger since the Great Recession.
4. Students are crippled with debt. Americans convinced that education would help them prosper have been saddled with enormous debt tied to big banks’ burdensome loans.
5. Child poverty. The United State leads the developed world in this shameful category.
“Nothing more clearly reflects the values of a country than how it treats its children,” Leopold says. “The countries of northern Europe have nearly eradicated childhood poverty.”
6. An inadequate minimum wage. America is the only country in the developed world where you can work full time and still live in poverty.
“The real buying power of the minimum wage – after taking into account of inflation – has been on the decline since its peak in the 1960s,” Leopold says. “A minimum wage of $7 an hour is a starvation wage.”
7. The tax system favors the rich. The wealthy don’t pay their fair share of taxes because they shift money overseas or exploit a tax code written to benefit them, excusing it in the “trickle-down” theory that decreasing taxes on the rich helps everyone else.
“The poorer you are, the more you pay as a percent of your income,” Leopold writes.
8. The rich buy the political system. After the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, money is pouring into politics as never before.
9. “The American Dream” is fading. The idea that hard work pays off in upward mobility – has become elusive.
“We cherish the idea that our children will do as well or better than we have done,” he says, “but the odds of rising above your father’s economic position in the U.S. is about 50/50.
10. The United States has become the world’s largest police state. Economic inequality costs U.S. society freedom, Leopold argues.
“Because we refuse to use government to provide decent-paying work for those willing and able to work, we leave cities mired in poverty,” he says. “As a result, we now have more prisoners in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population than any country. The incarceration surge started with the onset of runway inequality.”
11. An obstructionist Congress hinders economic progress. From the time President Barack Obama was inaugurated, Republican leaders’ priority wasn’t improving the nation, but defeating Obama. Nevertheless, Obama has presided over more than 65 consecutive months of private-sector job growth, with almost 14 million new jobs added during his two terms in office.
12. Wage stagnation. In the three decades following World War II, hourly compensation of most workers went up 91 percent, nearly the growth of productivity (97 percent). But from 1973 to 2013, hourly compensation of a typical worker rose just 9 percent while productivity increased 74 percent.
“Most of us haven’t had a real raise (after inflation) for more than a decade,” Leopold says.
[PICTURED: Les Leopold.]