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Salamone Wants to Help Fix Stuff:  Income Inequality

An opinionated fella’s blog series – chapter two

While every Trump supporter hides their support of racism behind the myth of a booming economy, it’s important to remember that at record rates, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Sure, billionaire wealth-hoarders get to hoard more wealth, but the average American is much worse off than ever before in our nation’s history.

The Federal poverty threshold in 2017 was $24,858 for a family of four. I don’t even know how a family of four could pay rent or mortgage on $25k a year. That’s extreme poverty. In 2017, 12.3% (39.7 million people) fell below that sort of extreme poverty level. When considering actual cost of living against incomes, many economists believe around half of America is living in poverty. Still, because we have to play by the rules the government sets, the statistics I’ll use in this blog will be based on draconian Federal poverty levels. All of these statistics come from TalkPoverty.org, and I encourage you to pay attention to their good work.

I feel it’s important to add that one out of four Native/First Americans and people with disabilities are below that Federal poverty line. One out of five Black people and Hispanic/Latino people do as well. Over 13% of women live below poverty line. Only 8.7% of whites do. So, as we discuss income inequality, we are also talking about economic discrimination. We’re talking about racial inequality and gender inequality. In 2017 women still made 80 cents to the men’s dollar, after-all. I also feel it important to mention that 12.8 million of the people living below Federal poverty level are children, and that statistically speaking, if you are born poor, you die poor. Upward mobility is another myth that gets spread around. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you haven’t any boots.

Another myth coming out of the Trump administration while trying to claim our dying economy is booming is a myth all Presidents before him have been guilty of perpetuating as well: our unemployment statistics are incredibly flawed. Federal unemployment data doesn’t account for people who have given-up, or have exhausted their unemployment services. Yet, it counts high-school summer jobs and second-jobs, third-jobs and so-on as employment. That friend of yours with a Master’s degree driving for Lyft to keep a roof over their heads? That’s a job. That homeless fella you’ve been buying meals for the last year and a half? He doesn’t count against the jobs reported by the Federal government. It’s a damn shell game; rigged for the dealer.

Meanwhile, the richest of the rich are paying less and less taxes. Billion dollar corporations pay little to no taxes too. Entire industries built on the backbone of American infrastructure are never forced to reinvest in that infrastructure, and wealth-hoarders keep the oligarchy trucking.

Poverty is the type of issue that intersects with near every other issue, not just discrimination, misogyny and racism. Access to education or healthcare and nutrition, facing the effects of pollution, access to housing, ability to drive or even afford an ID to be able to vote, or just having time to parent properly are all systematically tied to high poverty.

And it doesn’t have to be that way.

The good people at TalkPoverty.org surveyed economists back in 2015 for solutions to income inequality. If this topic is of interest to you, and I hope it is, I encourage you to read through the responses. I’m no economist, but I’ve compiled a roadmap.

First off, we need to kick money out of politics. There is no issue that Americans agree on more. In some polls, as many as 85% of us agree. We have unequal access to our government. With major campaign finance reform the wealthiest one percent will no longer get to control our legislation, our tax code or their puppets of the oligarchy, more commonly known as politicians.

Only through massive campaign finance reform can any of the other work that needs to be done be accomplished.

We need to restore the New Deal. We could have full employment by reestablishing the Federal Works Program Administration, all the while rebuilding America and her infrastructure for the next generation. I advocate for the full program as it once was, arts included, which cultivated America’s greatest talents in many fields.

We can save Social Security if we just remove the income cap that keeps the wealthy from paying in. We can fulfill FDR’s vision of universal healthcare by expanding Medicare For All, as was the initial idea. Through establishing one healthcare system and ridding ourselves of the mafia-like insurance/protection racket, we can negotiate with drug lords for lower prescription costs, like every other civilized nation does. We can invest in the FDA so that food safety is better regulated, drugs are better regulated, and access to nutrition becomes a right of all Americans.

We should pay reparations to families of former slaves and to first Americans. Paying people what they are overdue would stimulate the economy and provide those much needed bootstraps we keep hearing about to the people America was built on their backs.

We need to legislate that the Federal minimum wage is on par with actual cost of living, always. Going generations without a raise in minimum wage is criminal. We need paid family leave, access to childcare, universal pre-K, and a reformation of school taxes so they are not attached to property values, always leaving poor neighborhoods in educational crisis. Here’s an idea: legalize marijuana, like most Americans want, and tax and regulate it. Fund schools with the tax money.

The tax system is a rigged game in general, especially sales taxes that target poor consumers, instead of wealth taxes. If you win the billion-dollar lottery ticket, the government will take half. Why shouldn’t we do that when someone wins the genetic lottery and inherits a billion dollars? The wealthiest of Americans are protected from paying taxes, while the poorest foot the bill. This needs reevaluating and revolution.

I believe in the concept of Universal Basic Income, where a certain standard of living is guaranteed. We can accomplish this gradually, starting by investing in, not cutting, SNAP and unemployment insurance programs. Public housing initiatives and adult education or paid apprenticeships can help build a bridge between the generations of poor left behind and the opportunities we create for future generations.

Criminal justice reform is so badly needed, as our current prison-for-profit pipeline affects the economic security of one in three Americans. Drug and alcohol related crimes should be treated with treatment, and we should try to keep people in their homes and jobs while doing so. Nonviolent offenders should be bettering themselves while serving time, not performing corporation’s slave labor. Pass the REDEEM Act, now.

People with disabilities need better workplace protections and the elderly need a society that cares for them until their very last day. Restore the Voting Rights Act with even stronger protections for every category and intersection of American we can think of.

We need Federal protections on overtime rules for workers. Strengthen collective bargaining rights to give workers the leverage they need to bargain for better wages and benefits. Set safe labor standards for all workers. Support strong enforcement of labor standards to protect workers. The worker should be protected, not the CEO. Cap CEO incomes. If an industry is too big to fail, it should be broken up. If we bail out that industry, the workers and the American people should be issued stock.

Follow the example of San Francisco’s Prop C, which will make tech companies share responsibility in serving the bay area’s homeless, as studies show they helped cause the epidemic. Business has an obligation to serve their communities, and heck, it will create new consumers. It is an investment.

We advertise ourselves as a nation of immigrants. Innovation and growth has always been built on the back of minorities and immigrants. We need strong immigration programs that invest in newcomers to the American dream, instead of putting them in cages. Give pathway to citizenship and educational outreach. Give workplace safety and wage safety to all workers, for the benefit of all workers.

Rethink our military imperialism across the globe. The largest military the world has ever seen could be re-conceptualized away from warfare and creating global poverty into a global humanitarian mission offering educational opportunities, healthcare access and food security to all, making us all more secure in the process; instead of creating more enemies, lets make some friends.

There is a lot of work to do. But we can afford it and the wealthiest of Americans wouldn’t even feel the pinch. We have the funds. We have the talent. We lack the empathy and the leadership. Well, there has been a little leadership. The UN announced a plan to end poverty and hunger world-wide years ago. World leaders just never acted. If it were up to me, we’d act.

That’s how I’d fix income inequality, if given the opportunity to do so.

– Michael Salamone

bon vivant/raconteur/troubadour

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Salamone Wants to Help Fix Stuff:  Income Inequality