[This piece, from yesterday's Boston Globe, surely gives Catholic social theorists food for thought. Mark? Steve?]
A Steeper Ladder for the Have-Nots
Derrick Z. Jackson
It is stunning to see the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times simultaneously
devote a series to the American class divide. The Journal reported last Friday,
"Despite the widespread belief that the US remains a more mobile society than Europe, economists
and sociologists say that in recent decades the typical child starting out in
poverty in continental Europe or in Canada has had a better chance at prosperity."
In an echo, the Times wrote vitually the same thing, adding that in America,
a child's economic background is a better predictor of school performance than
in Denmark the Netherlands or France. The
best that could be said was that class mobility in the United States is "not as low as in developing
countries like Brazil,
where escape from poverty is so difficult that the lower class is all but
frozen in place."
Oh joy. This is what we have come to? Comparisons to developing countries?
Another odd thing about the series is that the mainstays of the mainstream
press are making a big deal out of the divide after years in which many
economists warned that our policies were plunging us straight toward Brazil.
For years, groups like the Boston-based United for a Fair Economy and the
Institute for Policy Studies sent up smoke signals that should have been a
In 1973, the ratio of CEO pay to worker pay was 43 to 1. By 1992, it was 145
to 1. By 1997, it was 326 to 1. By 2000, it hit a sky-high 531 to 1. The post
9/11 shakeouts and corporate scandals of recent years on the surface narrowed
the gap back to 301 to 1 in 2003. But a much worse parallel global gap is
emerging in the era of outsourcing. United for a Fair Economy published a
report last summer that found CEOs of the top US outsourcing companies made
1,300 times more than their computer programmers in India and 3,300 more than
Indian call-center employees.
Such groups say if the minimum wage kept up with the rise in CEO pay, it
would be $15.76 an hour instead of its current $5.15. Looking at it another
way, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, another often written-off
liberal think tank, published a report last month that in the last three years,
the share of US national income that goes toward corporate profits is at its
highest levels since World War II, while the share of national income that goes
to wages and salaries is at a record low.
This completes a perfect storm over the last quarter century of corporate
welfare for those with the most among us and vilification for those with the
least. Americans have been seduced by simplistic notions of rugged
individualism to vote more to punish people (welfare mothers, prison booms, and
affirmative action in the 1990s, and gay marriage in 2004) than for programs
and policies that might lead to healing the gaps (national healthcare and
revamped public schools).
It is obvious that Americans believed that none of the inequalities long
endured by the poor (because it's all their fault, right?) would seep into our
lives. We were wrong. With suburban schools slashing their budgets, healthcare
costs rising, retirement funds in doubt, and the next generation facing a drop
in their life span from obesity and diabetes, the nation is sliding into a
A quarter century of a "mine, all mine" ethos continues to work
for CEOs and the upper class. The rest of America finds the ladder taller and steepening. Much of the nation is now one
catastrophic injury away from falling into poverty. It should be a national
emergency that stratification in the richest nation in the world has us fading
from the relative mobility of Europe and sinking toward
the discouragement in developing countries.
It is no wonder why politicians who protect the
wealthy scream "class warfare" every time someone talks about
inequity. It is a diversion to keep those who vote against their own interests
from realizing they are victims of friendly fire.
May 22, 2005 in Perry, Michael | Permalink
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