03 November 2013

The Haves vs the Have-Nots...

One of the most disturbing stories in today’s world is the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in America.

When you see the stats on the eradication of the middle class and the growing difference between the rich and the poor, it’s, quite frankly to me, a wonder that we’re not having some kind of revolution or uprising beyond Occupy Wall Street. To me it’s a sign of two things: if you are among those who are losing ground every year financially (and that would be the vast majority of us), you don’t identify with the downtrodden and believe that upward mobility is still possible for you, also, though it seems paradoxical, you’ve given up and believe that nothing can be done to catch up with the fat cats so why fight it?  

CNN’s John Sutter has started an excellent series about inequality in America. Earlier this week, CNN posted a piece about Lake Providence, Louisiana, which has the highest level of income inequality in the country, according to the Census Bureau. Among the stats Sutter posts in his story is that the U.S. has wider income disparity than Nigeria or Iran and that  it is harder to get ahead now than since the Great Depression 85 years ago. 

And in Lake Providence, it’s nearly impossible. With an unemployment rate of 16%, the top 5% in Lake Providence average $611,000; the lowest 5% earn $6,800 per year. Many of the poor work minimum wage jobs, but the problem is that minimum wage is worth less than it was 50 years ago when adjusted for inflation, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Sutter’s series isn’t about good guys and bad guys, it’s about all of us and what America looks like now. One of the richest men in Lake Providence (he got that way through inheritance and then built it from there) talks about providing jobs for his poorer brethren on the other side of town in his seed factory and Sutter points out that this man volunteers to help build homes for the disenfranchised.

It’s just common sense that people who suffer from income inequality also have greater rates of substance abuse, unattended health issues, lower life expectancy and host of other problems that their richer counterparts can often afford treatment for.  But the further away you get from the lower end of the inequality spectrum-- i.e. the richer you get-- your empathy for people in that situation drops, according to studies. That’s why we see studies where the richest among us feel that if the poor just worked harder, they could get out of their situation and that to offer them a supposed hand-out instead of a hand-up is just wrong and encourages "laziness." (I’m not so sure why we can’t do both, although many government programs that did provide so-called hand-ups, in terms of training, education, etc., have been cut).

Sutter lists charities that help the disenfranchised in Lake Providence, so today I’m donating to one of those, NOVA Workforce Institute of Northeast Louisiana. It provides job training in Lake Providence and the rest of the surrounding parish. 

Nov. 3: NOVA 

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