“For the first time in memory, [an] entire decade has produced essentially no economic growth for the typical American household.”
That was the conclusion drawn by Harvard economist Lawrence Katz in response to the most recent census figures that show that now 1 in 7 Americans live in poverty.
Median family incomes in 2009 were 5 percent lower than in 1999. The number of US residents without health insurance climbed to 51 million in 2009. Those numbers also fail to consider direct government assistance such as food stamps and tax credits, which are not counted when calculating income for purposes of determinig whether an individual or family falls above or below the poverty line.
If there’s a bit of good news in the report it is that things could have been much, much worse. The number of uninsured is expected to shrink as the health care overhaul begins to take effect. Millions of Americans did not fall below the poverty line simply as a result of expanded unemployment insurance and other governmental assistance. Others were able to get by by sharing homes with siblings, parents or friends. The Recovery Act kept approximately 6.2 million Americans out of poverty and lifted about 2.4 million children out of poverty as well.
Without a doubt children have been the hardest hit by the increase in poverty rates, particularly children of color. 35.7 percent of African-American children currently live in poverty. That number is only slightly better for Hispanic children at 33.1 percent.
It’s hard to make the case for a freeze, or even worse, systematic cuts, of government assistance programs in the face of such staggering numbers. But that is exactly what Republicans are doing by insisting on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans over the next 10 years. Extending those cuts, which are set to expire on their own (and thus, despite the heated rhetoric, fail to qualify as a tax increase) will cost this country $830 billion in revenue. Compare that with an estimated $90 billion in policy solutions targeted at reducing child poverty by about 41 percent over the next ten years and ask yourself just who the current Republican leadership intends to benefit.
The numbers are downright criminal. This country has fallen into a wealth-disparity not seen since the days of the Robber Barons. After surviving The Great Depression we made a promise–extended the social contract–to say never again. Never again would Americans who were willing to work and support themselves not be able to do so because of unfair wage and hour laws. Never again would young Americans be forced to chose between furthering their education as part of realizing the American Dream or dropping out and working to help feed their families. Never again would families starve while Wall Street splurged.
It is far too easy to lay this tragedy solely at the feet of the Bush administration, though they certainly should bear the lions share of blame. Much of the regulatory dismantling that allowed the corporate pillaging took place on the Democrats watch. But the extent of the of the overreach that took place during the Bush administration and at the expense of the middle class can render one speechless. And to think that Republican leaders insist this is good social policy is positively mind boggling.
photo courtesy of Don Hankins via Flickr