The non-partisan Pew Research Center has released a report headlined "The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier," that finds the last decade has seen the largest decline in family incomes since the end of World War II.
As the 2012 presidential candidates prepare their closing arguments to America’s middle class, they are courting a group that has endured a lost decade for economic well-being. Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some—but by no means all—of its characteristic faith in the future.
The report says that in 1971, 61 percent of Americans fell in a "middle income tier"; in 2011, that had shrunk to 51 percent. That means the rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer, with upper-income adults making up 20 percent of the population, up from 14 percent in 1971, and the lower income up to 29 percent, up from 25 percent.
So what is middle class? It varies on where you live. Based on U.S. Census Data, the annual income for a family of four seen as necessary for a middle-class lifestyle is a median of $85,000 in the East, $60,000 in the Midwest and $70,000 in both the South and the West. (The U.S. census says the median income in Arkansas for families of four is around $56,000.)
It's only further elaboration on the well-established, but I recommend Thomas Edsall's examination of how a handful of super wealthy are exercising inordinate influence over presidential politics with their mammoth contributions to Super PACs. Mammoth as a $10 million contribution seems to you or me, it's worth noting, it's chump change for a billionaire.
Already, by my count, 20 members of the Forbes 400, whose combined wealth is $135.8 billion, have given a total of $33 million — that’s an average of $1.65 million each — to candidate-specific super PACs. And it’s February.
Thank the U.S. Supreme Court and Citizens United and don't forget the court said this decision wouldn't be corrupting because the independent expenditures come from places unconnected to candidates. That's a fiction.
The 2012 election is shaping up as a confrontation between two opposing camps, one calling for policies to ameliorate inequality at the expense of the affluent, the other for policies likely to increase it.
The Supreme Court has tilted the playing field in favor of those who have benefitted most from rising inequality, giving the richest Americans a new tool to control the political process at a moment when their economic power has reached heights unequaled since 1929.
More reporting from the New York Times on secrecy attached to the enormous contributions (from a PO box, for example) being made to Super PACs in support of presidential candidates thanks to the Citizens United ruling.
It is not an exaggeration to say campaign finance rules have become meaningless, at least for the very rich. The system, already terribly flawed, has been fatally poisoned by the U.S. Supreme Court's exaltation of corporate interests over those of people.
It continues to beat all. From TPM:
Mitt Romney on CNN Wednesday morning said he is concerned about the heart of America. “I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there,” Romney said. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who, right now, are struggling, and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation.”
When pressed on his statement, Romney admitted that, of course, it is hard to be poor. “We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor,” he added.
Repubs, even, are piling on (if secretly agreeing with the sentiment.) The super poor have it made, after all.
Stephens Media columnist Steve Brawner takes off from the fight over placement of a veterans service center in Little Rock to the failure of the country to adequately serve millitary people when they come home from the wars they've fought. He points no finger at neighbors resisting the center:
We shouldn’t blame the Downtown Neighborhood Association because members don’t want a clinic there. We should blame the government, and ourselves, because every necessary service wasn’t long ago in place — for the existing homeless veterans, and for the new ones that the War on Terror would produce.
As a society, we’ve pretty much said, “Welcome home, but we’re not going to do a whole lot to welcome you here.”
We know that wars mess up people. We know some people come back physically wounded. And we know that others come back with other kinds of wounds. After fighting in a war, some veterans cannot live with the peace.
Now that we are letting them sleep in the streets, how do we live with ourselves?
This is the nub of my complaint about the city's reaction to date. It depicts needy veterans as a community nuisance. There's been precious little talk — and no action — about serving people in need. But we've heard an awful lot of talk about the perceived danger posed by a group of men and women that we otherwise love to invoke with hands over heart in political campaigns and with misty-eyed reverence for a silent moment before the burgers and beer begin on Memorial Day.
(Please, don't tell me again about the city's "kind" offer to shunt veterans into the dump far removed from the center of town in which it wants to segregate other homeless people. The VA operates accredited rehabilitation treatment facilities. I've seen the national accreditation standards it meets. The idea that the old rescue mission — abandoned by its current owner for its unsuitability — could meet those rigorous standards of accessibility and integration into the community is dubious.)
UPDATE: U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin made it clear today that he's doing everything he can to derail opening of the center on Main Street by demanding a meeting with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. I know that local officials have prepared answers to questions Griffin has posed, but they will be relayed to him by Shinseki's office, not local officials. If Griffin succeeds in killing the Main Street plan, it will cost a million in tax money — probably much more to start anew a planning process in addition to the lease kill fee — and delay a needed expansion of veterans services here for years. The city of Little Rock homeless shelter being fitfully pieced together in a remote site on Confederate Boulevard isn't suitable or adaptable for use by the veterans and federal tax money can't be commingled with other services there. Your allegedly pro-veteran congressman's future flag waving should be judged in the context of his work here.
UPDATE II: Dr. Tina McClain, director of mental health services for the VA here, wrote the following letter to downtown residents raising questions about safety of children from people being treated for mental health problems.
"The 99 Percent," the Renaud brothers documentary on Occupy Wall Street premieres on the Current network tonight at 8 p.m. It's part of a weekly documentary series called the Vanguard and finds the Little Rock natives trailing Vanguard correspondent Christof Putzel as he moves into Zuccotti Park.
From the trailer, it looks like the Renauds got plenty of shots from the march that broke one of their camera that we reported on last month.
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin had a press release Internet ready when Republicans passed legislation to address a problem that doesn't exist. Republicans have voted to prohibit EPA regulation of farm dust. No such regulation was proposed. President Obama has noted, however, that this new legislation might prohibit some useful regulation in other areas, such as mining and industrial activities.
The Democrats could get in this game. Let them introduce legislation to prohbit the Republican congressional caucus from killing children.
If Republics were really serious about anything but cutting taxes for the wealthy, they wouldn't waste time with empty theatrics such as this.
ELSEWHERE AT THE CAPITOL: Senate Republicans defeated the Democratic measure to extend a payroll tax cut and pay for it with a surcharge on millionaires. Republicans are willing to cut payroll taxes if 10 percent of the federal workforce is fired — not including them, naturally.
Senate Republicans today filibustered the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It's not just Elizabeth Warren the Repubs hate; it's consumer protection in general that Sen. John "Dr. No" Boozman and the other Republicans hate. Give consumers — the 99 percent — a chance against the money lenders? Not a chance.,
Salon reports on an economist's analysis of the wealth of the Walton family. It puts it terms you can understand. "Insane wealth," is how Salon put it.
In short, six Waltons, with almost $70 billion in assets according to a 2007 Forbes analysis, have assets equal to ALL the assets of the bottom 30 percent of the U.S. population, or about 100 million people.
Keep shopping Walmart and maybe the big six can do even better.
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