America revels in its self-proclaimed “great economy.” Jimmy Carter’s win buttons (Whip Inflation Now) evoke nostalgia, largely because gas and oil prices are near record low levels. Herds of home buyers, delighted by long term interest rates, sign on the dotted line each day. The Dow Jones average spurts like a shaken Coke, while the unemployment rate plunges to depths not seen since WWII. Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, says it is the strongest economy in fifty years. The Federal Government faces an exotic problem: how to spend the hundreds of billions in surplus each year. The press smugly boasts of our cornucopia of plenty.
- Business is great everywhere! Lawyers struggle to cope with the double digit growth in new bankruptcy cases. Hospital emergency rooms are often SRO as forty-three million Americans without health insurance wait to be seen. Customers for beds in homeless shelters form long lines as pent-up demand exceeds capacity. The huge increase in the market share at food kitchens has these enterprises scrambling for stoves, pots and pates to feed their new clients. The growth in the number of families living in poverty rivals that of the Dow Jones Average, up one hundred and twenty-seven percent in the last ten years. These other business stories get short shrift in the press.
- A generation ago, in the 1970s, corporate taxes made up thirty percent of the I.R.S. revenue. Today the figure is ten percent. Over the same period the top IRS personal income tax bracket dipped from ninety percent to thirty-four percent. In the 1970s the Federal Government financed three hundred thousand low-income housing units each year. Today the figure is fifty thousand. Large corporations routinely coffered benefits like pensions and company paid health care. Their cost was a part of the cost of doing business. Today many of those same workers in the same companies are “independent contractors” who provide and pay for these benefits out of pocket, if they can afford it. These losses to workers are smothered under corporate earnings reported in the press.
“Down sizing” and “right sizing” have stripped many steady workers of the security that once came with decades of competent service to an employer. Once a middle aged worker is “let go” he often finds it difficult, if not impossible, to find another comparable job. Most settle for lower income and fewer benefits. The plight of the middle-aged worker is distorted by cliche. “They must retrain and become computer literate.” In other words, it’s their fault. In fact, computer literacy isn’t their problem; it’s age. “They must become younger,” would be more accurate. Corporations recently asked Congress to allow them to import more low wage workers from the third world. The President supported the pea, and Congress agreed. Rampant age discrimination isn’t a hot story for the papers.
- In the last thirty years, the average hourly wage has stayed level or decreased while health benefits have been cut back or eliminated along with pension pans for the rank-and-file. All of these savings drop down to the bottom line of corporate earnings statements. These profits fuel the rising stock market. Bill Clinton declared an end to “welfare as we know it.” The former welfare clients now compete with other low-wage workers, insuring a surplus of low skilled workers to depress bottom end wages. During Greenspan’s tenure at the Federal Reserve each time he sees pressure to push wages up he has tightened up on interest rates, and the stock market fluttered a bit higher. Is he buying the prosperity of the stock market on the backs of the working poor? The question is seldom asked in the media.
- Who benefits from this robust economy? American incomes have reached astounding levels (the press reports). We get monthly updates on how well we are doing. Last month our average income rose six-tenths of one percent. For once Bill Clinton got it right Y the devil is in the details. If you average the enormous windfalls reaped by the top twenty percent of Americans with the incomes of all Americans, then on average we are all prospering. This is how the press reports the facts. (Imagine the small increase we got, on average, when Michael Eisner of Disney, Inc., signed a ten-year contract worth approximately $771 million.) The top grossing one tenth of one percent of American households enjoy eight percent of American income, while twenty percent of black men between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-five report no earned income at all.
The press gloated that Bill Gates net worth is equal to that of the bottom forty percent of all Americans. This was an understatement. The bottom forty percent of Americans have no net worth. They toil at insecure low paying jobs with few benefits and endure the grinding pressure to work more and more hours to produce enough income to meet basic living needs. They have no health insurance or pensions. They line up at homeless shelters, at food kitchens, and at emergency rooms when they become sick.
Bjom Bjornson, the Norwegian paywright, said “God help us if our sense of fair pay is not the strongest of our feelings.” God help America!
Production Line Poets Reproducing Like Rabbits
La seule ambition de faire un poeme suffit a le tuer. [The sole ambition to write a poem is enough to kill it.]
Ottar Draugsvold (Ashburnham, MA). A celebrity culture dominates magazines with celebrations of the rich and Vacuous. The trivialization of serous issues and the attempt to keep the majority confused has placed me in opposition to almost every major cultural institution in America.