Class warfare? America has been engaged in class warfare for years, and the middle class is losing.
The GOP presidential candidates and Republicans in Congress have dusted off the class warfare charge once more, this time in reaction to President Barack Obama's proposal to tax millionaires at a higher rate to help reduce the national debt. The class warfare charge also is trotted out every time someone suggests allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to lapse as scheduled.
But it's hard to fathom exactly what that phrase, class warfare, means in this context. Are we supposed to recoil in horror at Obama's so-called "Buffett Rule," named for Warren Buffett, the billionaire who actually wants to pay higher taxes? The Buffett Rule is merely this: People earning more than $1 million a year should not be able to pay a lower tax rate than middle-income households.
Class warfare! To the ramparts!
A few statistics offer a pretty clear picture of how the middle class actually has fared for the past decade or so. Here's one: The top 20 percent of Americans now hold 84 percent of U.S. wealth.
The second 20 percent holds 11 percent; the third 20 percent holds 4 percent. The fourth 20 percent holds 0.2 percent, and the bottom 20 percent holds 0.1 percent - which means the bottom 40 percent controls almost nothing, including their economic future.
The typical American worker has had stagnating wages for years. Despite growth in worker productivity of 80 percent between 1979 and 2009, hourly wages for the median worker grew by only about 10 percent.
All that wage growth occurred from 1996 to 2002. Despite continued increases in productivity, wages have barely risen since 2002.
The average real weekly earnings of blue-collar workers are lower today than in 1964.
America now has more poor people than at any time in the 52 years records have been kept, according to an article in Time magazine by economist Rana Foroohar. The number of people living below the poverty line - a family of four living on $22,000 a year - has been rising for the past four years and now stands at 15 percent of the population.
Foroohar asserts that the American Dream, the notion that anyone with grit and determination can improve his or her status, has become a sad joke. Americans now are less upwardly mobile than many European nations, including even stratified countries such as England, France and Germany.
If you're born poor in America, you're likely to stay poor.
The Republicans have another favorite catch-phrase: "Don't raise taxes on the job creators!" But if cutting taxes for the rich is the answer to creating jobs, why didn't the Bush tax cuts produce enough jobs to keep all able-bodied Americans employed? Why does national unemployment stand at 9 percent?
The fact is, trickle-down is a cruel hoax.
Polls now indicate that a large majority of Americans believe that the best way to create jobs, get the economy moving and attack the deficit is through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases - not just spending cuts. That is not surprising.
It's not class warfare; it's simple fairness.
Meanwhile, the wealthy, those in the upper 20 percent or so who might be asked to pay a little more, need to ask themselves what they really want. Do they want to hang on to every penny of wealth or do they want a large, stable, self-supporting, middle class that can keep the economy humming to the benefit of all?
Do they want a healthy consumer class or peasants charging the gates with torches and pitchforks? That might sound outrageous, but how much inequality can we endure and remain the nation we claim we are?
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Werrell is the opinion page editor for the Rock Hill Herald. He can be reached by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.