4 Bogus Right-Wing Theories About Poverty, and the Real Reason Americans Can’t Make Ends Meet (Hard Times USA)
Why People Are Really Poor
During a period of less than 20 years beginning in the early 1980s, the American economy underwent dramatic changes. It was a period of policy-driven de-unionization and the offshoring of millions of decent manufacturing jobs. The tax code underwent dramatic changes, as CEO pay sky-rocketed and the financial sector came to represent a much larger share of our economic output than it had during the four decades or so following World War II.
And our distribution of income changed dramatically as well. During the 35 years prior to Ronald Reagan’s election, the top one percent of U.S. households had taken in an average of 10 percent of the nation’s income. When Reagan left office in 1988, those at the top were grabbing 15.5 percent of the pie, and by the time George W. Bush took office in 2000, they were taking over 20 percent of the nation’s income.
We can either believe that this shift was a result of changes in public policy (combined with new technologies), or that in just two decades there was some sort of rapid cultural decline among everyone but those at the top of the economic heap.
All of the false narratives are intended to distract from the structural causes of poverty and inequality, and they ignore two simple and indisputable truths. First, contrary to popular belief, we don’t all start out with the same opportunities. The reality is that in the United States today, the best predictor of a newborn baby’s economic future is how much money her parents make.
It also ignores the fact that living in an individualistic, capitalist society carries inherent risk. You can do everything right - study hard, work diligently, keep your nose clean - but if you fall victim to a random workplace accident, you can nevertheless end up being disabled in the blink of an eye and find yourself in need of public assistance. You can end up bankrupt under a pile of healthcare bills or you could lose your job if you’re forced to take care of an ailing parent. Children - innocents who aren’t even old enough to work for themselves - are among the largest groups receiving various forms of public assistance.
The reality, despite the spin from the conservative movement, is that poverty in America is very real, and it’s anything but fun.