*Economist Robert Frank wrote a thought-provoking opinion piece in the New York Times last week (October 16). His thesis suggests that income in America is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of the top 1 percent of the nation’s population and that this concentration is potentially harmful for democracy and for the well being of the majority of this nation’s citizens.
This is a theme which I have attempted to hammer home in numerous commentaries for years. But I long ago discovered that raising issues of class and the concentration of income at the top of society can get you branded a socialist, a communist or just plain un-American. There seems to be a deep-seated belief in American culture that the people with the most money in society have it because they earned it and thus deserve it.
There is seldom any discussion of institutional factors and government policy which favor the rich getting richer, the middle class in stagnation and the poor getting poorer. For example, take a look at President Bush’s and the Republican Party’s “tax cuts” forced onto the nation in 2003. The net result of those “tax cuts for the rich” was that billions of additional dollars were placed into the hands of the already well-off and rich and by December 2007 the nation was in its worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Frank writes: “Most troubling, all significant income growth has been concentrated at the top of the scale. The share of total income going to the top 1 percent of earners, which stood at 8.9 percent in 1976, rose to 23.5 percent by 2007, but during the same period, the average inflation-adjusted hourly wage declined by more than 7 percent.”
America cannot keep going in this direction. The top one percent of society has nearly tripled its share of America’s wealth while the average working person has seen his and her income fall by more than 7 percent. Meanwhile, data released by the Census Bureau last month shows the total number of Americans living in poverty hit 43.6 million during the Great Recession, the highest level in 51 years and the national poverty rate rose to 14.3 percent from 13.2 percent.
Further, I put forth another thesis which argues that the central issue facing Black America as we move into the future is our lack of a fair share of America’s wealth. Most of the problems and social pathologies which currently plague us are not at their root racial issues. Instead, they are really class issues. In order to drive this point home more crudely, we, as a people, simply do not have enough money (income and wealth) to insure stable and productive lives in America.
Frank hits at this point in the following manner: “The rich have been spending more simply because they have so much extra money. Their spending shifts the frame of reference that shapes the demands of those just below them, who travel in overlapping social circles. So this second group, too, spends more, which shifts the frame of reference for the group just below it, and so on, all the way down the income ladder. These cascades have made it substantially more expensive for middle-class families to achieve basic financial goals.”
The election of Barack Obama as the first African American president would have been for naught if his presidency does not lead to more well-paying jobs and greater financial stability for Black America. My proposal remains a 20-year, $50 billion-a-year program targeting inner city America with jobs and Black-owned businesses.
This is the only way to counter the current “rich get richer” trend and bring true racial equality to America. We have enough Black politicians; we need greater wealth.
[Robert Taylor welcomes responses to his commentaries. Email your “Letter to the Editor” to [email protected] or write “Robert N. Taylor,” P.O. Box 58097, Washington, D.C. 20037-8097.]