How hypocrites in high places have contributed to the riots in the streets

A decades-long wealth grab by the richest Americans has left millions of Americans on the brink of poverty — and poverty begets violence.

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Image Credit: AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura

A perception exists among much of White America that young Black men would rather loot a store than work a job. This perception serves a lot of wealthy people well, deflecting attention away from their own failures to support the needs of society. But it’s a dangerously twisted perception. People want jobs. They want meaningful work. Given the opportunity, heads of households use their money to support their families, to provide for the essential needs of life. Numerous studies back this up.

So what has kept this from happening? A decades-long wealth grab by the richest Americans has left millions of Americans on the brink of poverty — and poverty begets violence, as numerous reputable sources suggest. And the lack of living-wage jobs has contributed to violence, as suggested by numerous other sources.

Martin Luther King said: “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.” About 90% of America has been largely unheard since 1975.

Who’s responsible for the poverty that has led to rioting in the streets?

The redistribution of wealth to the richest 1% over the past 45 years is hard to comprehend. In a Time report on a study by the Rand Corporation, it is estimated that the $50 trillion shift from the bottom 90% to the top 1% would pay every working American an additional $1,144 a month, every single month, year after year. If wealth distribution since 1975 had continued in the same manner as between 1945 and 1975, today’s $35,000 salary would be over $60,000. It’s little wonder that so many Americans are lashing out at the broken system.

Hypocrisy kicked in during the 1970s and through the Reagan years, when the infamous Laffer curve and a ‘trickle-down’ philosophy gave Congress the justification to cut tax rates for corporations and the super-rich, and to deregulate the financial industry. “Trickle-down” never worked, but the delusion persists among its beneficiaries.

More recent hypocrisy. With the 2017 corporate tax cuts came the lofty assurances that money would be freed up for new investment in jobs and R&D. So what happened? In the following year S&P 500 companies set a new record for buying back their stock to artificially boost stock prices for management and investors — a practice that was illegal until the Reagan years. While about a third of S&P companies are now curtailing stock buybacks in response to the pandemic, others have depleted so much of their funds that they have turned to the pandemic-inspired CARES Act for relief to “distressed industries.”

Yet more hypocrisy. Last year nearly 200 CEOs of major U.S. corporations signed an agreement to affirm their commitment to employees, customers, and community. In 2020 signees were almost 20 percent more likely to announce employee layoffs, while paying out 20 percent MORE in dividends and stock buybacks.

The four-decade losses in wealth and job income have contributed to the poverty numbers, and to violent reactions. Martin Luther King explained, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Those demands are being expressed through violence.

What America needs: A job guarantee

The Republicans have argued for work requirements for Medicaid and food stamps and other forms of social programs. But when asked what he would do to bring jobs to Kentucky, Mitch McConnell responded, “That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet.”

But it IS his job. It’s OUR job as a nation. Liberals realize change is needed to provide opportunities to less fortunate people. Conservatives blame less fortunate people for not working hard enough. A job guarantee satisfies both sides. More and more experts and national leaders are starting to realize this. Especially with the pandemic, which has thrust us into “the throes of an unprecedented jobs crisis.”

There is plenty of potential work out there: infrastructure projects for roads, bridges, transit systems, and wastewater treatment; disaster preparation for hurricanes and fires; the construction of barriers to protect against sea-level rise; the planting of trees and development of parkland; postal service upgrades. And more work indoors: home care workers to aid the aged and disabled; child care; special needs programs; and not the least a resurgence in science and arts initiatives. The work chosen by recipients may be entrepreneurial, as newfound incomes unleash talents that were previously suppressed by personal financial concerns, and it could potentially take highly creative forms, as in the 1930s, when the Works Progress Administration hired thousands of artists and actors and musicians to help sustain the cultural needs of the nation. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 70% of workers don’t feel ‘engaged’ (enthusiastic and committed) in their jobs. A guaranteed income will help provide the freedom to choose appealing work.

There is evidence for the success of guaranteed job programs, starting with the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, which put 8.5 million Americans to work building new roads, bridges, and parks around the country. More recently, according to the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, subsidized employment programs have “reduced family public benefit receipt, raised school outcomes among the children of workers, boosted workers’ school completion, lowered criminal justice system involvement among both workers and their children, improved psychological well-being, and reduced longer-term poverty.” The jobs program RecycleForce, which hires formerly incarcerated individuals with government money, has cut the recidivism rate while saving the taxpayer $1.20 for every dollar invested.

As Cory Booker noted, “If you’re willing to work, you should have a shot at economic stability and the American dream. We do not believe we should leave people behind to the ravages of unemployment and poverty.”

Talk is not enough

Many celebrities and sports stars are saying “we have to do something.” But it will take more than just talk to make this happen. It will demand that those of us in the well-positioned older generations accept the higher taxes that we’ve been avoiding for over forty years.

In the end, if the young people in the streets are given the opportunity to support themselves and their families with living-wage jobs, but then they still turn around and riot, we progressives will have to admit we were wrong. But if the conservatives who say “get a job” won’t support the creation of those jobs, then they’re being hypocritical to the highest degree.

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