Income Outcome: Income Disparity in the US

A recent study of median net worth conducted by the Washington Post and the University of Michigan shows that the income of members of the US House rose from $280,000 in 1984 to $725,000 in 2009, while the median income of US families over that same time fell from $20,600 in 1984 to $20,500 in 2009. The figures are adjusted for inflation and do not include home equity. (I didn’t know anyone still had home equity. Anyway…)

It gets more interesting. As income inequality rises, political campaign funding from rich donors (and I’m not talking Republicans vs. Democrats here) also rises because A) The rich have more money to give, and B) They have a vested interest in protecting their wealth. So what happens is the rich influence the political process and the country moves toward becoming a plutocracy. Sadly, - or I suppose I should say “Sadder still” since it’s difficult to get sadder than this - what this means is that a regular working-class shlub who doesn’t have a ton of money behind him can’t run for political office so the connect between the people who get elected and the people who elect them grows more and more distant with each election cycle. The result? More of what we’re seeing now.

Scott Pelley of CBS Evening News has been interviewing CEOs and business leaders about how to grow the economy and he recently interviewed the Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, Dr. Calvin Butts. The conversation turned to income disparity and I thought the pastor made good sense. I’ve posted a link to the video below, but here’s a transcript of the segment:

PELLEY: “Another thing facing the country now is income disparity. There has never been a wider gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. How do you see that?”

BUTTS: “We better pay attention to income disparity. If we don’t, we’re going to face civil unrest in the nation. Poor people are tired of watching so few with so much, while so many have so little.”

PELLEY: “What’s your message to Congress?”

BUTTS: “We’ve got to put the partisan foolishness aside. Boehner knows what’s good for this nation. President Obama knows what’s good for this nation. And they have been able, at times, to find common ground. But their political parties have pulled them so far to radical left and right that the American people suffer.

ME: Amen.  So what do we do about it? The Occupy movement is trying to do something, but what about the rest of us? (Ironically, the signs hanging and posted at the People’s Plaza in downtown Minneapolis were stolen over the Christmas weekend. Also stolen was the court declaration stating that posting/hanging signs on People’s Plaza was a protected First Amendment right.) Can we pull ourselves away from television sets and weekend moviegoing long enough to care? It’s a rhetorical question, I don’t have any answers. Maybe you do and if you do, not to sound like Frasier Crane, but I’m listening.

Here’s some music that reflects the signs of the times and shows that things really don’t ever seem to change. The first song is from 1971 and the second song is from 1972. If you were alive back then you know what what was going on and now here we are 40 years later – 40 years – and the songs still speak to all of us. Listening to them it seems like all that’s gotten smarter over the last 40 years has been our telephones. 

The CBS News segment with Scott Pelley and Dr. Calvin Butts can be found by clicking here.

And there is more here:

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