As often noted in the passionate writings of Henry Giroux, poor Americans are becoming increasingly ‘disposable’ in our winner-take-all society. After 35 years of wealth distribution to the super-rich, inequality has forced much of the middle class towards the bottom, to near-poverty levels, and to a state of helplessness in which they find themselves being blamed for their own misfortunes.
The evidence keeps accumulating: income and wealth — and health — are declining for middle-class America. As wealth at the top grows, the super-rich feel they have little need for the rest of society.
Income Plummets for the Middle Class
According to Pew Research, in 1970 three of every ten income dollars went to upper-income households. Now five of every ten dollars goes to them.
The Social Security Administration reports that over half of Americans make less than $30,000 per year. That’s less than an appropriate average living wage of $16.87 per hour, as calculated by Alliance for a Just Society.
Wealth Collapses for Half of Us
Numerous sources report that half or more of American families have virtually no savings, and would have to borrow money or sell possessions to cover an emergency expense. Between half and two-thirds of Americans have less than $1,000.
For every $100 owned by a middle-class household in 2001, that household now has just $72.
Not surprisingly, race plays a role in the diminishing of middle America. According to Pew Research, the typical black family has only enough liquid savings to last five days, compared to 12 days for the typical Hispanic household, and 30 days for a white household.
Our Deteriorating Health
In a disgraceful display of high-level disregard for vital health issues, House Republicans are attempting to cut back on lunches for over 3 million kids.
The evidence for the health-related disposability of poor Americans comes from a new study that finds nearly a 15 year difference in life expectancy for 40-year-olds among the richest 1% and poorest 1% (10 years for women). Much of the disparity has arisen in just the past 15 years.
It’s not hard to understand the dramatic decline in life expectancy, as numerous studies have documented the health problems resulting from the inequality-driven levels of stress and worry and anger that make Americans much less optimistic about the future. The growing disparities mean that our children will likely see less opportunities for their own futures.
It May Be Getting Worse
The sense derived from all this is that half of America is severely financially burdened, at risk of falling deeper into debt.
It may be more than half. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a JP Morgan study’s conclusion that “the bottom 80% of households by income lack sufficient savings to cover the type of volatility observed in income and spending.” Fewer than one in three 25- to 34-year-olds live in their own homes, a 20 percent drop in just the past 15 years.
It may be even worse for renters. The number of families spending more than half their incomes on rent — the ‘severely’ cost-burdened renters — has increased by a stunning 50 percent in just ten years. Billionaire Steve Schwarzman, whose company Blackstone has been buying up tens of thousands of homes at rock-bottom prices and then renting them back while waiting out the housing market, finds the growing anger among voters “astonishing.”
What’s astonishing is the disregard that many of the super-rich have for struggling Americans.