Facts about Class, Poverty and Downward Mobility

In Current Events, Election Politics, History on September 28, 2011 at 00:26

BY BOB ENGLEHART from politicalcartoons.com

There is a group of citizens that steals from taxpayers so they can sit on their divans and watch their high definition 3D televisions, eat subsidized food products and sponge off the American people. I am of course talking about the ruling elites. Republicans, however, want you to believe it’s welfare recipients that have created our economic troubles when it is unrestrained corporate and bourgeoisie greed that has brought about the economic collapse of the United States.

People project personal and societal problems onto convenient, weak targets such as the poor who have been villainized by the mass media. They are also scape goats for people who still believe in the myth of the American dream. The “American dream” is the idea that if you work hard, you will succeed. Thus, you won’t need welfare; only the lazy and undeserving receive welfare.

The idea of the American dream is one of the most successful pieces of propaganda ever perpetuated. If we believe in the dream, we can dismiss or outright ignore economic, social, and demographic realities that have more to do with economic impoverishment than any supposed behavioral deficiencies on the part of welfare recipients.

You are more likely to fall form middle class to lower class than you are to rise from middle class to the upper class. “The Pew study looked at Americans who were between the ages of 14 and 17 in 1979, and living at home with their parents that year. For teenagers who were part of the middle class in 1979 — defined as the 30th through 70th percentile of income — about 28 percent of them had fallen out of it, meaning below the 30th percentile of income, by 2006.” (link)

Part of the cause of this downward economic movement has been a drop in real wages for all but the top economic earners during that time period. “The Center for American Progress reported how between 1979 and 2007 the average income of the bottom 50 percent of American households grew by 6%; the top 1% saw their income increase by 229 percent.”  (1979-2007).

During the same period, inflation went up about 118% (1979-2007), more than doubling prices. Real wages, wages compared to inflation, has been dropping. But you won’t hear the Republican presidential candidates mention this except as way to blame the poor and attack Social Security, Medicaid and other government programs to aid the lower and middle classes.

Economic class at birth determines your economic opportunities in life, or as Max Weber put it, your class is identified with your market position and it determines your “life chances.”

Those that attack welfare recipients as being lazy and not motivated ignore the reality of class and market position. Of course there are examples of people who have overcome poverty and become wealthy. However, a 2006 study funded by the Center for American Progress showed that there was only a 1% chance of a person in the lowest quintile (bottom 20%) of becoming a member of upper quintile, the top 20% of national incomes.

The Heartland Alliance creates an even bleaker picture of poverty. “Intergenerational elasticity in earnings is estimated to be around 0.6 – this is the correlation in earnings between parents and their children in adulthood. This means that for a hypothetical family of four whose current income is at the poverty line, it would take the descendants of the family 5 to 6 generations (125 to 150 years) before their income will be within 5 percent of the national average.18…African Americans and single mothers and their children are less likely to be upwardly mobile than other groups.20”  (link)

If it was just a matter of working hard, why is poverty rising and wealth more concentrated at the top than ever before? Is it that 80% of Americans are lazy? There is a given amount of wealth in a nation and thus when more wealth is concentrated at the top, there will be more poverty at the bottom.

According to Professor G. William Domhoff in his newly updated “Wealth, Income and Power” (2011), the top 1% wealthy people in the U.S. control 34.6% of the nation’s wealth and the next 19% highest control an addition 50.5%. That means the top 20% wealthiest people in the U.S. control over 85% of the wealth leaving 15% for the rest of us. It is clear that if the poor are stealing from us, they are inept thieves. With the top quintile currently hoarding their wealth, how is a poor person with insufficient education, living in a run down neighborhood with little in terms of “life chances” supposed to dig out of poverty?

Why don’t people hate the corporate criminals who created hedge funds to bet against mortgages Wall Street Banks and mortgages firms originated? Those same companies write tax codes for themselves so they pay little or nothing into our nations treasury. They are too strong and powerful, and if you want to get elected to state or national office, you dare not take them on.

We must dispel the myths perpetrated by the far-right and others that welfare recipients are all lazy, all greedy, all selfish and that they are all stealing from us.

Reason people are poor

It might be news to many people in America, and especially the far right, but people aren’t poor by choice. There are reasons for poverty.

Being poor is harder today, for the economic and political climate around poverty has changed dramatically since President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.  “Over the past 25 years significant structural changes have occurred in the United States that have influenced poverty, making current-day poverty different in some ways from poverty just a few decades ago. These structural changes include transformations in our economic structure such as the shift from manufacturing employment to service-sector employment; the de-institutionalization of people with mental illnesses into community settings; welfare reform, which resulted in a an emphasis on work over welfare; changes in immigration patterns; and skyrocketing rates of incarceration.” (link) Today there is no “War on Poverty”, just a war on the poor.

The current crop of the Republicans want to cut into the social safety net during a recession, a time when more people need help than any other. “Recessions…have a disproportionate impact on lower-income families because they cause rising unemployment, a reduction in work hours, and the stagnation of family incomes – all of which have the greatest impact for those with the least income to begin with.” (Ibid) But Republicans want to use the debt crisis to cut from and eliminate programs to aid the poor  and anyone that’s not a billionaire donor to their party.

Layoffs lead to poverty and government spending creates jobs and reduces poverty. But Republicans don’t deal with economic reality; they live in a realm of ideology devoid of facts. “Unemployment rates, wages, and inequality are used to measure the impact of economic performance on poverty, and all have rather consistently predicted poverty over the past two decades.22”  (Ibid)

Here are some of the reasons someone might enter into poverty or be poor, according to research by the Heartland Alliance.

1. “Individuals in households that experience a loss of employment are the most likely to enter poverty.”

2. A reduction in household earnings. “Almost half (49.3%) of poverty spells begin when the household experiences a decline in earnings.”

3. Low Wages. Having a job is not the answer if wages are too low. One quarter of all workers earn poverty wages.

4. Lack of high a school diploma. Despite the link to poverty, we have a high rate of high school drop outs in the United States.

5. Health care costs are a huge factor in poverty.

And the number one reason for poverty is…

6. lack of jobs.

Support President Obama’s jobs program and his attempts to raise revenue from the top tax brackets. That is one way they would become the “job creators” that they lie about being.

Links to ignorant hatred around welfare reform:

Supportive post on welfare lies:

Tex Shelters

  1. One thing that doesn’t get talked about much is how much damage the attitude of welfare recipient haters both inside and outside of wefare offices damages and make even more unemployable people who might have entered adulthood a little emotionally fragile.

    I’ve been on both sides of the desk. To get any kind of aid an applicant has to convince the interviewer how helpless and hopeless they are. Repeating this story over and over to get even a minimal amount of aid is pychic self castration. I’ve done it, gotten to the point that I was afraid to go out of the house, answer the door, answer a telephone, make a phone call to a stranger, go to the grocery store, put out the garbage,the whole nine yards.

    After some time in therapy and a little more education I ended up at a desk talking to people who were telling me their well memorized tale of helplessness. I’m glad I had my experiences and learned to tell myself another story because it made me see the people on the other side of the desk another way and see that the way I could help other people is in encouraging them to create a new personal narative.

    • Theresa,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It is important that we hear the voices of those involved in this process and not the hatred.

      It is important to remember the psychological damage this process can cause.

      Tex Shelters

  2. […] there are those of you so lazy as to point out that the top 5% of earners is the only group to have their real wages increase in the last twenty years. If you want high wages, why do you choose to be poor? It’s not our […]

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