Search This Blog

Sunday, October 30, 2011

When 1% is Bigger than 99%

What I love most about stats and math is that they are apolitical (or at least they used to be). They care not for party affiliation, for whom you vote, or where you get your news.

To wit.....
....If your household income isn't at least $386,000 a year you're in the 99%, not the 1%
....14,000 American families make up the top 0.01% and AVERAGE $31million a year

0.01% is 1 out of every 10,000 families. They earn 5%, or 5 out of every 100 dollars, of all income earned in America. That leaves the other 95 to be split up among the remaining 131,986,000 American households(1).

Is it any wonder poverty in America is now at 14.3%(2)? That's 14 out of every 100 people. 14% is just over 2 out of the 17 people listed in the To: field of the original email from which this post was created. Think about that. 2 people out of every group this size in America lives in poverty. Not working poor. Not middle class. Not having to sacrifice that European vacation or third car in the driveway this year. Not cutting back on eating out or trading in filet mignon for ground chuck at the grocery store.


What is poverty? Poverty defined for a family of 4 is earning $22,314/year(3). That's $10.72/hour if it's full-time work; 40 hours a week, 2080 hours a year, at $10.72 per hour.

The second largest single employer in the U.S. (behind the federal government which, btw, includes everyone in the military before anyone starts ranting about the size of government) is, you guessed it, Wal-Mart. Average employee take home pay at Wal-Mart is $250 a week, or $13,000 a year if they actually work all 52 weeks. Wal-Mart's "full-time" employees average $6 - $7.50 an hour for working 28 - 40 hour weeks(4)

The federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour(5).

Am I the only one who thinks it's madness for companies to be required by law to pay $3.50 an hour LESS than the poverty rate?

I'm not against wealth or the wealthy. I am not a communist.

I'm all for a strong, vibrant, and sustainably-consuming middle class because we are the true engine of the economy. Without us, there are no markets to whom corporations can sell their goods and services, make a profit, and create more wealth for themselves and their shareholders. I am perfectly fine with that.

Something has gone terribly wrong, though, over the last 30 years or so and we need to get back to what we know works.

I'm no big devotee, but for all his faults and his anti-union stance Henry Ford seemed to understand how things could work for himself, his company, and his workers. He knew that in order to build a big, successful company he had to:
a) build a product people would want,
b) price that product (based on cost and a reasonable profit) so enough people could actually afford to buy it and,
c) create a big enough and sustainable market to buy his cars, partly by paying his workers enough to actually buy the damned things.

Like I said, there's a lot about Ford's business methods I don't like, but what confuses me now is how we seem to be living in an age when some of us in the middle class have forgotten this "symbiotic" reality between producing goods and services that markets want and can afford versus how much the people at the top want to earn from that buying and selling.

In other words, without all of us in the 99% underneath the 1% from where is their wealth supposed to come?

Oh, yeah. Wait. That's right.

Their wealth can still come from record-level profits derived at least in part from continuing to outsource what we used to call middle class jobs to the absolute cheapest overseas labor markets. The government isn't forcing them to do that. In fact, "free trade agreements" help to facilitate that. It's a P&L decision made easier by government removing regulation.

If that's not enough, their wealth can still come from duping some of us into believing that what we need to do is elect people who will bring "certainty" to their business, as if that's ever supposed to be a component of a free market and capitalism. Exactly how does government provide certainty to those poor, abused, and fearful titans of industry and commerce? I thought government was supposed to get out of their way, not do things for them?

From what we're being told by one party in particular (and only to a lesser degree by the other), certainty would come if only the following could be realized:

1) Deregulation
If corporations - and especially the financial services sector - were utterly and completely deregulated, the economy would just grow like crazy because who needs a watchdog when you have the "invisible hand" to guide you? We've seen - and even Greenspan has admitted - that hasn't worked out all that well, but what does he know?

2) Lower - even zero - taxes
If only the wealthy "job creators" and corporations - which, when it comes to corporations, we are now told by the Supreme Court and certain GOP candidates are people just like us - could just pay even less - better yet, no - taxes they could hoard even more cash until "certainty" finally arrived. Then they would have the confidence they need to create all those wonderful minimum wage and non-union jobs, and everyone could stop all their occupying and whining about not being able to find a job and get back to work.

3) Fear-driven cuts and bailouts
And if all else fails? Well, the powerful elite will still have their bought-and-paid for minions in Big Government in both parties who will be more than happy to cut social programs for the poor (who have no power anyway) while they take that money - our tax dollars - and distribute what's left to banks and private companies as tax breaks and bailouts for the mistakes they made because, as we all know, a free market based on libertarian principles and pure capitalism cannot afford to fail.

(1) Where the One Percent Fit in the Hierarchy of Income, New York Times, 10/28/2011.

(2) U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts.

(3) U.S. Census Bureau Poverty Data.

(4) Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town, PBS.

(5) U.S. Department of Labor; Wages.


Anonymous said...

Interesting, how the 99% tends to "sleep" for 3 years/11 months at a time, and only "wake up" for major elections. How do we know they've awaken... well, his sign says so! It's precisely why the masses vote with their hooves each time and at best, elect the lesser of two evils. Meanwhile, the 1% never sleep, They always know - they have to. They know how to play the game and have adapted well to it, the very system that the 99% shaped by fumbling through their existence. The only thing they accomplish is electing the latest member of the 1%, either brand-X or brand-Y... there are no 99%'ers in DC.

Greg said...

I don't see the 1% as "playing the game" because it's their game and it's they who have fully rigged and run the game. The 99% don't shape anything, including elections, and except for the occasional uprising and revolution the 1% do everything necessary to keep the 99% firmly in check. Agree that there are no 99%'ers in DC, and those who pretend and profess to be seem always to all-too-soon be seduced into abandoning their advocacy for the rest of us. It's that whole thing about "Power's" ability to corrupt.