what’s in a day?

June 8th, 2012

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Recent tax data recently led to a select group of families being labeled as “The Fortunate 400.”  But before we look into where that name comes from, let’s consider something real quick.

There are hundreds of people who made more in one day of work than someone who pulls in just over six-figures a year.  Much more in one day.  Five times as much in fact, more in three-hours than he made in a year.  Trying to argue that this is simply what happens in a capitalist economy gets a little bit fuzzy when you consider that although between the 1930s and the 1970s CEO pay increased by a modest four-percent, since the 1970s it has increased eight-fold while employee pay has remained stagnant:

The AFL-CIO reckons that the ratio of chief executive pay to median worker pay rose from 42-1 in 1980 to 343-1 in 2010. The average S&P 500 CEO now makes over $10 million a year, according to a report from the Institute for Policy Studies.

So back to the Fortunate 400.  What exactly makes them so fortunate? Being the top 400 highest-earning families in 2009, and also paying a tax-rate of just 19.9 percent, the exact same rate as a worker whose salary just barely cracks the six-figures.  And 110 of them paid 15% or less in federal income tax, while six families somehow paid no federal income tax whatsoever.

This absurd Escher-esque inequality is not a good thing.  As events have recently borne out in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and as they are beginning to emerge in Greece – when the have-nots begin to realize just how little not they in fact have, things tend to get a bit testy.

And it’s only a matter of time until the exact same pattern begins to emerge here:

Maybe it doesn’t mean much to you that the average black family has eight-cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by whites, that the the ongoing recession has doubled the wealth gap between blacks and whites, or that the unemployment rate of blacks is edging up on twice as high as the white rate – easily surpassing it when you count incarcerated blacks. After all, a black child in American is nine-times more likely than a white child to have a parent who’s locked up.

But let’s look into the data and the implications a little bit more.

The precise era that saw a drug-law fueled explosion in our prison population, the early 1970s, are the exact same years that the economic situation of blacks began to starkly worsen and that the gap between rich and poor is wrenched wide open. Beginning in those years and continuing into today, “the economic status of black compared to that of whites has, on average, stagnated or deteriorated.”

Up until 1973, the precise year the Rockefeller drug laws were passed, the difference between black and white median income had been closing. But then that year it changed course, and in “an ominous bellwether… the gap between black and white incomes started to grow wider again, in both absolute and relative terms.”  Direct empirical research into incarceration’s economic effects weren’t done until recently, when a Pew Charitable Trusts research paper showed that prior to imprisonment two-thirds of male inmates were employed and half were their family’s primary source of income.  Additionally, upon release an ex-con’s annual earnings were reduced by 40%

 

Category: current affairs, news, politics, racial inequality, war on drugs | Tags: , , , , , , , Comment »


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