Upcoming House Bill will hurt millions of people throughout the U.S.
Denying the very existence of an entire class of citizens? That’s waging some very real warfare against them.
By Joshua Holland | September 25, 2011
There hasn’t been any organized, explicitly class-based violence in this country for generations, so what, exactly, does “class warfare” really mean? Is it just an empty political catch-phrase?
The American Right has decided that returning the tax rate paid by the wealthiest Americans from what it was during the Bush years (which, incidentally, featured the slowest job growth under any president in our history, at 0.45 percent per year) to what they forked over during the Clinton years (when job growth happened to average 1.6 percent per year) is the epitome of class warfare. Sure, it would leave top earners with a tax rate 10 percentage points below what they were paying after Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, but that’s the conservative definition of “eating the rich” these days.
I recently offered a less Orwellian definition, arguing that real class warfare is when those who have already achieved a good deal of prosperity pull the ladder up behind them by attacking the very things that once allowed working people to move up and join the ranks of the middle class.
But there’s another way of looking at “class war”: habitually vilifying the unfortunate; claiming that their plight is a manifestation of some personal flaw or cultural deficiency. Conservatives wage this form of class warfare virtually every day, consigning millions of people who are down on their luck to some subhuman underclass.
The belief that there exists a large pool of “undeserving poor” who suck the lifeblood out of the rest of society lies at the heart of the Right’s demonstrably false “culture of poverty” narrative. It’s a narrative that runs through Ayn Rand’s works. It comes to us in bizarre spin that holds up the rich as “wealth producers” and “job creators.”
And it affects our public policies. In his classic book, Why Americans Hate Welfare, Martin Gilens found a striking disconnect: significant majorities of Americans told pollsters that they wanted public spending to fight poverty to be increased at the same time that similar majorities said they were opposed to welfare. Gilens studied a number of different opinion polls and concluded that the disconnect was driven by a widespread belief that “most welfare recipients don’t really need it,” and by racial animus – “perceptions that welfare recipients are undeserving and blacks are lazy.”
That narrative ignores two simple and indisputable truths. First, contrary to popular belief, we don’t all start out with the same opportunities. The reality is that in the U.S. today, the best predictor of a newborn baby’s economic future is how much money his or her parents make.
It also ignores the fact that living in an individualistic, capitalist society carries inherent risk. You can do everything right – study hard, work diligently, keep your nose clean – but if you fall victim to a random workplace accident, you can nevertheless end up being disabled in the blink of an eye and find yourself in need of public assistance. You can end up bankrupt under a pile of healthcare bills or you could lose your job if you’re forced to take care of an ailing parent. Children – innocents who aren’t even old enough to work for themselves – are among the largest groups receiving various forms of public assistance.
Of course, there are always people who game the system, but they represent a tiny minority of recipients; a Massachusetts study found that fully 93 percent of all cases of “welfare fraud” were committed not by the “undeserving poor,” but by vendors – hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, etc.
Smearing those who face real structural barriers to achievement or who will inevitably face real and random misfortunes in a “dynamic,” capitalist society – that’s some real class warfare. Here are six excellent examples of the form. Continue reading
By HOPE YEN
WASHINGTON — Working-age America is the new face of poverty.
Counting adults 18-64 who were laid off in the recent recession as well as single twenty-somethings still looking for jobs, the new working-age poor represent nearly 3 out of 5 poor people — a switch from the early 1970s when children made up the main impoverished group.
While much of the shift in poverty is due to demographic changes — Americans are having fewer children than before — the now-weakened economy and limited government safety net for workers are heightening the effect.
Currently, the ranks of the working-age poor are at the highest level since the 1960s when the war on poverty was launched. When new census figures for 2010 are released next week, analysts expect a continued increase in the overall poverty rate due to persistently high unemployment last year.
If that holds true, it will mark the fourth year in a row of increases in the U.S. poverty rate, which now stands at 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million people.
“There is a lot of discussion about what the aging of the baby boom should mean for spending on Social Security and Medicare. But there is not much discussion about how the wages of workers, especially those with no more than a high school degree, are not rising,” said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty.
Census numbers show that out of 8.8 million families who are currently poor, about 60 percent had at least one person who was working.
“The reality is there are going to be a lot of working poor for the foreseeable future,” Danziger said, citing high unemployment and congressional resistance to raising the minimum wage. Continue reading