The evidence has mounted, and is clearly accepted, that extreme income inequality has grown in the United States over the past 40 years—and by extreme income inequality, I mean a huge imbalance in income growth favoring the top 1% of the population. This is extreme because it is large enough and sufficiently imbalanced growth that it must force a rethinking of economic policies.
Next month is Black History Month. We will hear stories about black Americans and their successes in this country against the barriers (slavery, Jim Crow, poll tax just to name a few) thrown in their paths. Yet for every success story, there is still the nagging fact that the median net wealth of white households is 12.2 times greater than that of black households.
The American public is fed up with Washington politics as usual. It is showing in the strength of the “outsider” candidates on both the Republican and Democratic side of the presidential race so far. But the Republicans are faced with a steeper challenge, because this disaffection is deeply rooted in the stagnant wages and incomes of Americans.
Yesterday and today, the world watches, slacked jawed at the endgame of the Greek government’s debt negotiations. The stakes are higher than many Americans understand. So far, the U.S. financial press has viewed this as isolated to the Eurozone. That is in large part because, having endured the Great Recession, there is a view that things are only bad if they threaten the “too big to fail” American banks that can create systemic risks for the U.S. financial sector. But, that view of the world that only bank stability matters is what is so incredulous.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its numbers for inflation and for real wage movements. The numbers reflected the weak numbers of the first quarter for economic growth: Zero inflation and zero real wage growth in the past three months. The economy is showing signs that it is fragile. It can be spoofed by international developments that raise the value of the dollar and slow U.S. export growth, or by bad weather—events, the Federal Reserve cannot control or easily predict.
Each week, another candidate throws a hat into the ring for the 2016 presidential campaign—a constant reminder that President Barack Obama is at the end of his term. Currently, the president is engaged in a high-stakes battle, twisting the arms of the Democratic Party base and pressuring his close congressional allies, like the Congressional Black Caucus, to help salvage his attempt to hammer through a multination “trade” agreement with Pacific Ocean rim nations. That is simply very hard to understand.
An “old school” demonstration Friday on Capitol Hill by American college students protested proposed cuts by House Republicans to Pell Grants that help our children afford college. I use the phrase “our children” because it is a well-worn phrase “our children are our future.” House Republicans appear to believe they are not “our children,” but your children; and you had better figure out how to get them educated because they are your problem, not our future. This is carrying the case for individualism to an absurd level.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released data on the labor market’s performance in February. The online version of their report links to supplemental tables normally left out of stories. One of those tables shows the unemployment rates of young workers 16 to 24 years old, by whether they are enrolled in school and by their education attainment and race. The table for those who are no longer enrolled and presumably completed with their education was very telling. It reported those out of school, white high school drop-outs had an unemployment rate of 17.5%, while black college graduates had an unemployment rate of 17.7%.
Mark Twain famously noted, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” The current efforts to roll back the ability of working people to counterbalance the corporate domination of America's politics is firmly rooted in the initial corporate opposition to the Wagner Act of 1935 that finally assured American workers the right to organize and bargain for wages and working conditions. Among those early efforts to reduce the strength of unions was an effort led by Vance Muse.
There is history—the facts of events—and then there is myth and fable—the essence of things, the narratives that shape our understanding of complex events inspiring, motivating, rallying and galvanizing us as people and nations.