POVERTY & INEQUALITY in the World's Richest Nation: A Resource for Study and Citizen Action
Student readings and discussion questions explore 1) the growth of U.S. poverty; 2) multiple perspectives on the causes, effects, and proposed solutions of poverty; 3) the historic levels of inequality; 4) multiple perspectives on the causes and effects of inequality and some proposed solutions; and 5) how to interpret the Constitution's injunction "to provideâ€¦for the general welfare." Suggestions for developing a class project follow.
By Alan Shapiro
Student Reading 1:
6.76 million Americans — or 46% of the unemployed — were categorized as long-term unemployed in June 2010, the most since 1948, when the statistic was first recorded. In June 2007, 1.3 million were in this category.
Another 1.1 million Americans had given up looking for work by August 2010, bringing the total number of unemployed to almost 8 million.
- "The symptoms of collective impoverishment are all about us. Broken highways, bankrupt cities, collapsing bridges, failed schools, the unemployed, the underpaid, and the uninsured: all suggest a collective failure of will," wrote historian Tony Judt. ("Ill Fares the Land," The New York Review, 4/29/10)
44 million Americans officially in poverty
15 million Americans are unemployed and either sinking into or already in poverty. Forty percent of them have been unemployed for more than half a year, a modern record. Millions more are working part-time when they need full-time work or have given up looking for jobs after months of trying, and failing, to find one.
As many as 3 million Americans are homeless. In August 2010, 95,000 homes went into foreclosure, adding to the numbers of people in poverty or on the edge. Many of these people had been middle class.
- New figures show that 1.4 million children under 18 recently joined the 13.6 million children who were already in poverty.
Student Reading 2:
Theories on the origins of poverty & how to reduce it
"Permanently Stop All Job-Killing Tax Hikes: We will help the economy by permanently stopping all tax increases, currently scheduled to take effect January 1, 2011. That means protecting middle-class families, seniors worried about their retirement, and the entrepreneurs and family-owned small businesses on which we depend to create jobs in America.
"Give Small Businesses a Tax Deduction: We will allow small business owners to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their business income. This will provide entrepreneurs with a much-needed infusion of capital for investment and new hiring.
"Rein In the Red Tape Factory in Washington, DC: Excessive federal regulation is a de facto tax on employers and consumers that stifles job creation, hampers innovation and postpones investment in the economy…. To provide stability, we will require congressional approval of any new federal regulation that has an annual cost to our economy of $100 million or more."
- "Exempting the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes and paying for it with a payroll tax on incomes over $250,000."
- "Making early childhood education more widely available"
- "Public universities should be free"
- " Workers who lose their jobs and have to settle for positions that pay less could qualify for 'earnings insurance' that would pay half the salary difference for two years."
Student Reading 3:
Inequality growing in America
During the last 30 years US productivity rose by about 20 percent and generated increased total income. The richest 1 percent of Americans took 80 percent of that increased income while middle and lower income Americans took practically none.
The top-earning 20 percent of Americans (making more than $100,000) received almost 50 percent of all income while those in poverty made 3.4 percent, according to the latest Census Bureau study. The U.S. now has the most income inequality of all Western industrialized nations. (www.huffingtonpost.com, 9/28/10)
- "By and large, an average CEO made in one day what a worker made in the entire year." (Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, "US Poverty Data Tells Only Half the Story," www.commondreams.org, 9/23/10)
Student Reading 4:
Inequality: views on causes, effects, remedies
- Conventional Census income figures are incomplete and omit many types of cash and non-cash income.
- The conventional Census figures do not take into account the equalizing effects of taxation.
- The Census quintiles actually contain unequal number of persons, a fact that greatly magnifies the apparent level of economic inequality.
- Differences in income are substantially affected by large differences in the amount of work performed within each quintile, yet these differences in work effort are rarely acknowledged."
(Rea Hederman, Jr. and Robert Rector, "Two Americas: One Rich, One Poor? Understanding Income Inequality in the United States," www.heritage.org, 8/24/04)
Student Reading 5:
Providing for the "general welfare of the United States"
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