Wealth Gap

Meanwhile, as workers are striking in Chicago in pursuit of a livable wage, Pew reports that, from 2009 to 2011, "the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%."
From the end of the recession in 2009 through 2011 (the last year for which Census Bureau wealth data are available), the 8 million households in the U.S. with a net worth above $836,033 saw their aggregate wealth rise by an estimated $5.6 trillion, while the 111 million households with a net worth at or below that level saw their aggregate wealth decline by an estimated $0.6 trillion.

Because of these differences, wealth inequality increased during the first two years of the recovery. The upper 7% of households saw their aggregate share of the nation's overall household wealth pie rise to 63% in 2011, up from 56% in 2009. On an individual household basis, the mean wealth of households in this more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio had been less than 18-to-1.
Twenty-four times. Twenty-four times.

And our national conversation is still about austerity, and slashing funds to social programs, and fucking bootstraps.

Let me repeat myself: I'll leave aside for now the tropes about the legions of straw-people who could be earning a livable wage at an awesome job with excellent benefits, but inexplicably choose to work at a minimum-wage job without benefits, or choose not to work at all, living high on the hog off our generous welfare system. Suffice it to say, that is abject nonsense, and being poor is one of the most difficult things to be in this country. Poverty is not for lazy people.

My present concern is with the working poor, and the way they are regarded by the architects of the Ownership Society.

Those men—and they are indeed almost all men, most of whose lives have been dictated by inherent privilege and family connections, which we're not meant to note while admiring their shiny bootstraps—believe quite firmly, and without seemingly a trace of irony or compunction, that one gets what one deserves in life. From the imposing height of their handsomely recompensed sinecures, they will assert with the particular condescending authority bestowed only by unearned success that, with a little hard work, anyone can be a productive member of their magnificent Ownership Society.

Now, I don't feel inclined to get into a whole Marxist discussion about the means of production here, but what these insufferable, vainglorious, classist captains of self-aggrandizing bullshit seem never to grasp, or possibly just acknowledge, is that if you want to live in a capitalist society that gives you the opportunity to get nasty rich, then we can't all be wealthy. And if you want to be the kind of person who doesn't pump your own gas, or make your own sandwiches, or clean your own house, or manicure your own fingernails, or drain your own dog's anal glands, or build your own car elevator, then there are going to have to be people who fill all those jobs.

And most of those professional, hard-working people will put in at least 40 hours a week, or more, and even still, many of them won't be given healthcare benefits, and many of them won't earn enough money to feed a family, and many of them won't be able to save as much as they'll need for their retirement.

People who honorably dedicate their time, energy, and talents to jobs that might not pay well are indeed entitled to something—to not work their whole lives only to find themselves poverty-stricken, or hungry, or homeless after one small (or not small) financial crisis. And if we're not going to ensure that every job comes with a livable wage, access to affordable healthcare, and retirement benefits, then we've got to provide a robust and well-funded social safety net.

I don't think that's asking for much, in exchange for a lifetime of providing service to their chosen vocation.

Though I grant it's certainly easier to scream BOOTSTRAPS! and carelessly assert that people who don't have everything they need just aren't trying hard enough.

Funny how the Grand Advocates of Hard Work are always the ones making the easy arguments.

The working poor in the US—and all of the people who navigate a tenuous existence in the middle class, from which they could be unceremoniously exiled after a brush with unemployment or a health crisis—are not working any less hard than their wealthy counterparts (in fact, many of us work a lot harder, but had the silly idea to pursue a vocation not as highly valued as making privileged people and corporations wealthy), and we not are not fools, and we do not "deserve" to have twenty-four times less wealth and its attendant security and opportunity.

This cavernous disparity is the result of wanton avarice, of cruel greed, of a void of empathy and a colossally short-sighted contempt toward the notion of culture, toward the idea that we are all in this thing together.

Beneath all the bullshit conservative narratives of earned privilege and deserved prosperity and bootstraps lies the truth: This inequality is the result of the Ownership Society's inherent indecency.

And I invite its architects to own that.

[Related Reading: Racism is why are whites are five times richer than blacks in the US.]

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