Income gap widens

Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 9:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 9:45 p.m.

We've got to do something about income inequality in the United States. A society is not healthy when a few people are chugging along economically and everyone else is barely making it on fumes. The statistics scream for action.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, those households earning more than $100,000 — the nation's top earners — earned 49 percent of all income in 2009. The 20 percent at the bottom of the food chain only earned 3.4 percent of all income. The income ratio between the two groups is now 14.5-to-1, whereas in 1968, it was only 7.7-to-1. In addition, in 2009, those earning less than $50,000 experienced another decrease in wealth while those at the top raked it in.

This gaping inequality stems from government policies that favor the rich.

In 1968, the government's "War on Poverty" came to an end, as the Vietnam War escalated and President Nixon came to power.

In 1981, when Ronald Reagan became president and his supply-side tax policies were implemented, inequality expanded even more.

The rich got a huge tax break in the Reagan era. The top 20 percent of the population controlled 80 percent of the nation's wealth back then, and the richest 1 percent controlled 40 percent. There was no looking back after this money grab.

Under President Clinton in the 1990s, there was a reduction in poverty and some improvement for the middle class. The earned income tax credit that he signed into law had a lot to do with this.

But when George W. Bush got into the White House, he railroaded through a massive tax cut for the rich that made inequality much worse.

The Obama administration has basically ignored the problem of poverty. And it has extended the Bush tax cuts for two more years, perpetuating inequality.

Instead, it should begin to pursue policies that relieve the financial pressure on the poor and middle class and that promote a more equal economic society.

Addressing the housing crisis would be a good first step, either by imposing a moratorium on foreclosures or requiring banks to write down the principal on their mortgages.

Second, people need good paying jobs now. If jobs are not created soon by the private sector, President Obama must make the case that the government has to create jobs to get people back to work just as President Roosevelt successfully did during the Great Depression.

Third, an increase in the minimum wage would help. A poll last fall by the Public Religion Institute showed that two-thirds of Americans favor an increase from $7.25 an hour to at least $10 an hour.

Fourth, Obama should follow the suggestion of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and propose sending $250 checks to everyone on Social Security.

People on Social Security have not received an increase in the last two years, and 64 percent of them rely on Social Security as their primary source of income.

And finally, Obama must campaign against any further extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent.

We Americans are a fair people. We should not tolerate the level of inequality that exists today.

Brian Gilmore is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues. It is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.

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