TThe United States cannot prosper and remain a vigorous democracy when so few have so much and so many have so little. While many of my colleagues in Congress choose to ignore it, the issue of income and wealth inequality is one of the great moral, economic and political crises we face, and it must be addressed.
The unfortunate reality is that we are rapidly moving into an oligarchic form of society, where a handful of billionaires have enormous wealth and power, while working families have been struggling in ways we have not seen since the Great Depression. This situation has been aggravated by the pandemic.
Today, half of our people live from paycheck to pay, 500,000 of the poorest among us are homeless, millions are concerned about evictions, 92 million are uninsured or underinsured, and families across the country they are worried about how they are going to feed themselves. their children. Today, a whole generation of young people have a scandalous level of student debt and are faced with the reality that their standard of living will be lower than that of their parents. And, most obscene, low-income Americans now have a life expectancy that is roughly 15 years shorter than that of the wealthy. Poverty in America has become a death sentence.
Meanwhile, the people at the top have never done so well. The top 1% now own more wealth than the bottom 92%, and the 50 richest Americans own more wealth than the bottom half of American society – 165 million people. While millions of Americans have lost their jobs and income during the pandemic, over the past year 650 billionaires saw their wealth increase by $ 1.3 trillion.
The growing gap between the very rich and everyone else is nothing new.
Over the past 40 years there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class and working families to the richest people in America.
In 1978, the top 0.1% owned about 7% of the nation’s wealth. In 2019, the last year of available data, they have almost 20%.
Incredibly, America’s two richest people, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, now own more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans combined.
If income inequality hadn’t skyrocketed over the past four decades and simply stayed static, the average worker in America would be earning $ 42,000 more in income each year. Instead, because corporate CEOs now earn more than 300 times more than their average employees, the average American worker now earns $ 32 a week less than 48 years ago, after adjusting for inflation. In other words, despite huge increases in technology and productivity, ordinary workers are losing ground.
Tackling income, wealth and inequality will not be easy, because we will take on some of the most powerful and best-funded entities in the country, including Wall Street, the health insurance industry, pharmaceutical companies, the fossil fuel industry and the industry. industrial-military complex. But it must be done. This is something that Congress and the President can do in the very near future.
We must raise the minimum wage from the current hunger wage of $ 7.25 an hour to a living wage of at least $ 15 an hour. A job should lift workers out of poverty, not keep them there.
We need to make it easier, not difficult, for workers to join unions. Massive increases in wealth and income inequality may be directly related to declining union membership in the United States.
We need to create millions of high-paying jobs by rebuilding our dilapidated infrastructure: our roads, bridges, sewage plants, sewers, sewers, dams, schools, and affordable housing.
We need to combat climate change by fundamentally transforming our energy system from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and renewable energy, which will also create millions of well-paying jobs.
We need to do what practically every other major country does by guaranteeing health care to all people as a human right. Passing a Medicare for All program would end the absurdity that we pay twice per capita for health care as people in other countries, while tens of millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured.
We need to ensure that all of our youth, regardless of income, have the right to a high-quality education, including college. And that means making public colleges and universities free and substantially reducing student debt for working families.
What if. We need to get America’s richest people and most profitable corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes.
Growing income and wealth inequality is not just an economic problem. It touches the very foundations of American democracy. If the very rich get much richer while millions of workers see their living standards continue to decline, faith in government and our democratic institutions will wither and support for authoritarianism will grow. We cannot allow that to happen.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism