The wealth gap in America is the largest it’s ever been, and it’s only getting worse (DePillis). Politicians would point to an increase in the GDP and to the unemployment rate as signs of a healthy economy (FoxBusiness). These stats are often touted as signs of an improving economy, but in reality, these stats are hollow. For starters, the unemployment numbers count every part time worker as employed, but fail to count those who haven’t sought employment in the last year at all. What is left out is that Americans are underpaid and underemployed. As corporate money pours into the U.S. political system, especially over the last decades, we have seen president after president, cut taxes for the rich and pass legislation that has ensured that wealth in America continues to flow upward. Worker wages in America have been stagnant since the 70’s (DiSilver). This means that the revenue from the rise in the GDP is going straight to the upper class. Meanwhile more and more people are being forced to work, low-paying, part-time jobs with little or no benefits.
As gas prices are going up and inflation is increasing, workers’ wages have remained stagnant. All this while the three richest people in America own more wealth than the bottom half of all Americans (Collins and Hoxie 2). According to census data, half of all Americans are now poor or low-income and make $30,000 or less per year (Social Security: Office of the Chief Actuary). Thirty million Americans are still without healthcare and healthcare costs are the number one cause of bankruptcy in America (Hellmann) (Mangan). Almost 80% of people in America live paycheck to paycheck (Reich). Half of all families can’t afford the cheapest car on the market (Maynard).
Some of the largest employers in the country are also, notoriously, some of the worst companies to work for. Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, “earns” more in ten seconds than the median employee makes at his company in an entire year (Glum). Both Amazon and Wal-Mart receive billions of dollars in tax breaks every year. Not only that, but hundreds of thousands of Amazon and Wal-Mart employees are on food stamps and other forms of public assistance (Brown). This means that because Amazon and Wal-Mart do not pay their workers a living wage, the American tax payer is paying for their workers’ food and much of their healthcare costs. Tax cuts for the rich, or “trickle-down economics”, is the idea that if we put even more money in the hands of the rich, they will spread it around, thus stimulating the economy. This has been disproven, time and time again. These extremely wealthy individuals end up hoarding the majority of their wealth, buying back their own stocks, consolidating wealth to a level not seen in this country’s history. According to Time Magazinethe top 10% richest people in America own 84% of all stocks (Wile).
The United States was at one time a country where if you were willing to work forty hours a week, you could drive a decent car and own a decent house. Free trade agreements made all during the latter half of the 20thcentury have completely gutted the manufacturing industry in America (Scott). Unions, too, have all but been destroyed in America. Free trade deals make it possible to ship manufacturing jobs overseas. During collective bargaining, management can threaten to move a factory over the border. Strikes can be broken and unions can be busted with this tactic. Many studies have tied wages to the health of the manufacturing industry and the strength of unions, both of which have been under constant assault in America. This has all led to the largest wealth gap seen since the Gilded Age (Neate).
To begin to control this out of control system we must begin to level the playing field. The goal should be not necessarily for everyone to receive an equal outcome in life but merely an equal opportunity. In order for that to happen, slow, incremental changes will not be enough. Healthcare, education, and a good infrastructure are the benchmarks of a healthy nation. Immediately implementing a Medicare-for-all system would make the work force in America healthier, and as a nation we would save trillions of dollars in healthcare costs(Venkataramanan).The tax levied to pay for the plan would cost less than your current healthcare premium, and it would cover everything and everyone with no out-of-pocket costs.
Another crucial step to closing the wealth gap is education. Education in America must be well-funded from preschool through university. Wealth should not determine who attends the most prestigious colleges. The average taxpayer in America paid $3,456 in taxes that went toward military last year; that is compared to just $580 toward education (Johnson). $80 billion was just added to the already bloated military budget with no public debate whatsoever. This increase alone would pay for free college more than twice over (Calfas).A radical change in national priorities must occur in order to correct these numbers to reflect a healthy nation. A healthy and educated citizenry will make it easier to dislodge the permanent elite class from their all-powerfull station.
Jeff Bezos has $125 billion, making him the richest man in modern history (Frank). Ending homelessness in America would cost an estimated $20 billion (Lowrey). Jeff Bezos made more than that last year alone. These corporations owe a huge debt to the society that has made it possible for them to accumulate so much wealth. These debts include the use of publicly funded infrastructure such as phone lines, roads and satellites. These companies also benefit from government funded R & D, all while under the protection of the U.S. military. These companies enjoy a perfect climate in which to do business that is not of their own making. These companies owe everything to America. An extremely high, progressive tax rate should be applied to individuals and corporations. This means that when someone has made over a certain amount, say five million dollars, whatever they make over that would be getting taxed at an extremely high rate. One can still make five million dollars and pay the standard tax rate, but after that, how much can one person really “earn” and how much does one really need? This strategy was implemented by F.D.R. when faced with the economic crisis of the Great Depression (Thorndike and Mehrotra). He is still the most popular president of all time, and following his terms of office America enjoyed its greatest period of economic prosperity in history.
Another possible solution to wealth inequality would be to enforce some of the existing anti-trust laws that are currently on the books to break up all of the corporate monopolies into many, many smaller businesses. Many of these new smaller businesses could become worker co-ops. In the U.K., labor party leader Jeremy Corbin intends to implement a low, or no interest loan program to help workers purchase, and collectively own, the companies where they work. The U.S. should adopt and implement a similar plan. Democratically owned and run companies have been successful in other countries for decades and produce higher wage/higher incentive jobs (Mason).
In order to make any of these things a reality we must first pry off the grip extremely wealthy people have on media and politics. Immediate reforms in campaign finance are long overdue, as are reforms limiting media ownership. These are just baby steps toward balancing out the extreme wealth gap. Eventually an overhaul of the current global liberal economic system must take place. The above solutions are just the beginning of the reforms that should immediately be implemented, but these are mere band-aids on a broken system that will continue to fail us unless we rethink our entire global economic philosophy.
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