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Defending the 1 Percent

I support the 1 percent.

It is time in the United States they become a part of our “radical revolution of values.”

Woman panhandling in front of fashion store.

Speaking up for the suffering of our poorest.

I am talking of course of the bottom 1 percent of Americans who live on less than $2 a day. In a world where a list of the top 400 richest Americans can be considered newsworthy, it is high time to give more time to the poorest of Americans who have to suffer as their wealth is stolen by those at top. They cannot be ignored.

This group of Americans, who live on income that is difficult for many people to imagine, is in “extreme poverty.” In 1996, they were just 1.7 percent of all households. In mid-2011, the number rose to 4 percent or a growth rate of 159 percent.

A study conducted by the National Poverty Center, specifically researchers Kathyrn Edin and Luke Shaefer, earlier this year on the other 1 percent stated “1.65 million households with 3.55 million children were living in extreme poverty in a given month.” One disturbing part of the study was how the “Great Recession” affected those in extreme poverty:

[A] rise in the number of households experiencing prolonged periods of unemployment may have also led to a rise in the number of households surviving on virtually nothing. (Emphasis mine)

Let’s briefly pause at this moment to reflect on what we understand so far. When we hear the words “virtually nothing”, what comes to mind?

Surely, we, as a society, have to reach a point where we must criticize what our system so much that it must be abolished. Existence of “bullshit jobs,” as London School of Economics anthropology professor David Graeber placed it, is directly connected to the problem of such individuals in our society living with “virtually nothing.” But let’s return to the study.

The report notes “assistant programs” for those in poverty has slowed down the overall rate, though notes the rise of poverty highlights how weak the social safety net is for Americans.

It is clear that our current major safety-net programs are playing a vital role at the very bottom, especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and are blunting some of the hardship that these households would otherwise face. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the U.S. safety net is strong, or even adequate, when the number and proportion of households with children surviving on less than $2 per day has risen so dramatically over the past 15 years, even after accounting for means-tested transfers

The authors note a major turning point in the 1990s was the signing of the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996” or the “welfare reform” law as the authors placed it. It changed the system from a “need-based” program to a “block grant” program that was easily manipulated by states for their own use. As they elaborated:

[C]ash assistance caseloads have fallen from 12.3 million recipients per month in 1996 to 4.5 million in December 2011, and only 1.1 million of these beneficiaries are adults. Even during the current period of continued high unemployment, the cash assistance rolls have increased only slightly. ‘Welfare’, in the form of cash assistance, is a shell of its former self.

The signing of the 1996 law was not the fault of Republicans only, but of the Democrats as well. Historian Howard Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States:

The aim of the welfare cuts was to save $50 billion over a five-year period (less than the cost of a planned new generation of fighter planes). Even the New York Times, a supporter of Clinton during the election, said that the provisions of the new law “have nothing to do with creating work but everything to do with balancing the budget by cutting programs for the poor.”

Last year, a New York Times/CBS News poll found “two-thirds of registered voters” viewed him favorably while a whopping 91 percent of Democrats have a “favorable” view of him. This was an individual who remarked the “era of big government was over“, so it is peculiar Democrats would support an individual like Clinton.

There is a section in this study that speaks volumes about the issue of “extreme poverty.” Indeed, the study reports there is an increase of “disconnected” mothers — those with “neither earnings nor welfare” — and experience “multiple barriers to work such as learning disabilities, physical limitations, few work skills, and mental health problems.” The researchers found:

Using the cash only definition, in 2011 about 36.5 percent of the households in extreme poverty were headed by a married couple, and 50.8 percent were headed by a single female. After adjusting for means-tested programs, just over half of the extreme poverty households are married, and less than one-third are single female headed, reflecting greater reliance on public programs among single female headed households.

More information can be in statistics from the US Census Bureau reported earlier this year that “40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.”

Moreover, as a recent report by the National Women’s Law Center stated, 733,000 elderly women in the United States make around $458 a month or $5,500 a year in 2012. This is a part of the 2.7 million women over 65 who are in poverty and the 17.8 million women who lived in poverty. Perhaps most striking is the researchers lack of an answer for the increase of women in poverty:

“We don’t know right now what it’s due to,” said Katherine Gallagher Robbins, a senior policy analyst at the NWLC.

Robbins did note to MSNBC that the cuts in Social Security Administration funding may be a culprit, but it was only one factor out of many.

It should be noted the report further adds to the discussion that the crisis has not stopped for many in the United States, who have to deal day to day with a system that allows for such a thing to exist. Poverty does affect women more than men (indeed, two-thirds of minimum wage jobs are held by women) , but this is a issue that attacks all for the benefit of a few.

Surely, there must be a larger context of why such poverty can occur without much fuss being raised. Of course, there is evidence suggesting as to why extreme poverty can exist.

Last year, as reported by economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, the top 1 percent gained more than one-fifth of total income. In a larger context, the top 10 percent gained more than half of all wealth recovered.

There is a correlation between the two studies as to what is occurring in the United States. If the poorest Americans are increasing in numbers, then it must be assumed their wealth has been redistributed somewhere else. Indeed, in another study that featured Saez and Piketty, it stated:

The rise in the share of the top 1 percent has had a noticeable effect on overall income inequality in the United States.

The Forbes Top 400 rich list are individuals (131 to be exact) who work in Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) are one instance where they have affected the income inequality in the US. The FIRE sector have not produced one tangible good but have produced billions for so few. They’ve produced nothing to gain everything.

Paul Woolley, Senior Fellow of Woolley Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality (which is a part of the London School of Economics) is one individual who has studied the necessity of those on Wall Street. An article from The New Yorker asked him about his opinion on whether Wall Street — or the entire industry — was “valuable”:

“There was a presumption that financial innovation is socially valuable,” Woolley said to me. “The first thing I discovered was that it wasn’t backed by any empirical evidence. There’s almost none.”

What is the reason for individuals to live in extreme poverty, while another section of the population lives in extreme wealth? Is it hard work and determination? Is it luck for them to be born at the right opportunity?

Or is it controlling the government for their own means and ends to produce the type of wealth that benefits them and only them? The answer may not be clear.

The fact of the matter is that the grave crisis experienced by those in the United States is not a crisis that needs to be ignored. As much as the statistics speak about what occurs, the situation is worse than one can imagine.

The most troubling aspect of all of these reports is how it is now the new way of life in the United States. No major discussions are raised, no individuals are placed up front to bring up issues (or even attempted to be arrested) and no one bothers to remark once in the corporate media that this crisis should not exist under any circumstances. It is absolutely pathetic it occurs without much discussion raised about our state of society and whether it should continue to exist.

It reminds me of a routine that comedian Bill Hicks had:

Folks, it’s time to evolve. That’s why we’re troubled. You know why our institutions are failing us, the church, the state, everything’s failing? It’s because, um – they’re no longer relevant. We’re supposed to keep evolving.

Indeed, the problem is not of one where our status quo can be reformed through that hip new organization down the street with those activists who drink fresh cups of coffee before meeting with their congressman or woman. It must be changed through discussion, disobedience and a rejection of forced values on a society that lives in an insane country. Psychologist Bruce E. Levine wrote a piece about this state of society and wrote:

We are today disengaged from our jobs and our schooling. Young people are pressured to accrue increasingly large student-loan debt so as to acquire the credentials to get a job, often one which they will have little enthusiasm about. And increasing numbers of us are completely socially isolated, having nobody who cares about us.

The government has shutdown with a group of individuals scrambling to figure out what to do to save face come election time. The rich are worried their stability is under attack during this shutdown. It is already known who the biggest losers are and the signs ahead are not optimistic as we wish them to be.

The government might have shutdown on October 1st, but, for those Americans who are surviving on absolutely little, the government has shutdown a long time ago. No campaign event or tour will ever justify that knowledge that Americans are living with “virtually nothing”, while Wall Street has a tight pull over the government.

Malcolm X had a great quote when speaking on way the oppressed were treated in society during the 1960s:

We don’t see any American dream; we’ve experienced only the American nightmare.

The nightmare continues in other forms in our society, the question is how to respond to it. Another quote by him gives the best solution:

Usually, when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change. When they get angry, they aren’t interested in logic, aren’t interested in odds, aren’t interested in consequences. When they get angry, they realize the condition that they’re in- that their suffering is unjust… and that anything they do to correct it… they’re justified.

Get angry.

Photo by Wolfgang Lonien released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

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Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.