America’s Greatest Shame: Child Poverty Rises and Food Stamps Cut While Billionaires Boom

Source: Alternet

Author: Les Leopold

There are 16.4 million American children living in poverty. That’s nearly one quarter (22.6%) of all of our children. More alarming is that the percentage of poor children has climbed by 4.5 percent since the start of the Great Recession in 2007. And poor means poor. For a family of three with one child under 18, the poverty line is $18,400.

Meanwhile, the stock market is booming. Banks, hedge funds andprivate equity firms are making tens of billions of dollars again, while the luxury housing and goods markets are skyrocketing.

Most amazing of all is the fact that 95 percent of the so-called “recovery” has gone to the top 1 percent who have seen their incomes rise by 34%. For the 99 percent there’s been an undeclared wage freeze: the average wage has climbed by only 0.4 percent.

To add to the misery, Washington has decided that the best way to tackle childhood poverty is to have poor kids eat less. Both parties already have agreed to cut billions from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps). Starting this November 1, payments are scheduled to drop from $668 a month to $632 for more than 47 million lower-income people — 1 in 7 Americans, most of them children. (Three incredible graphs that visualize the issues in this story are at the bottom of this article.)

And more cuts are coming. The Tea Party House passed a bill to cut food stamps by $4 billion a year, while the Senate calls for $400 million in cuts. How humane! And since it will be part of the omnibus Farm Bill, President Obama will sign it. (I wonder how our former community organizer will explain this to the poor children he once tried to help in Chicago.)

But that’s just the start. More austerity is coming in the form of cuts to Social Security as well as a host of other social programs. When times get tough, you’ve got to suck it up and take more from the poor.

Rewarding Billionaires Who Increase Poverty?

It gets even more revolting when we realize that the financial billionaires who are profiting so handsomely from the recovery are the very same who took down the economy in the first place. They were the ones who created and pedaled the toxic securities that puffed up and then burst the housing bubble. Those financial plutocrats caused 8 million workers to lose their jobs in a matter of months. Those bankers, hedge fund honchos and fund managers are directly responsible for the rise in child poverty rates. Washington bailed out those billionaires and is now asking the poor and the middle class to pay for the ensuing deficits with further cuts in social programs at every level of government.

Why do we put up with such injustices?

Washington Is in Wall Street’s Pocket

Before we entirely succumb to financial amnesia, let’s recall how we got here. Since the late 1970s, the financial sector has been on a crusade to remove any and all financial regulations. The goal was to undo all the controls put in place during the Great Depression that so effectively curtailed financial speculation and outright gambling. Once deregulated Wall Street engineered a Ponzi-like housing bubble that netted it astronomical sums. By the time it burst in 2007, 40% of all corporate profits flowed into the financial sector. Wall Street wages grew by leaps and bounds.

As the crash hit, all the largest Wall Street firms, not just Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, were in serious trouble. Had AIG gone under, so would nearly every major bank and investment house, along with thousands of hedge funds that depended on AIG to ensure its toxic bets. So Wall Street’s Washington cadre engineered a $13 trillion bailout consisting of cash, no interest loans and a program by which the Federal Reserve would buy up Wall Street’s toxic waste at par value. To produce a financial recovery, the Fed also drove down bond interest rates which in turn drove money into the stock market, sending it to new heights.

Here’s the best of all. After getting $480 billion in bailout cash, the top financiers in the country paid themselves more than $150 billion in bonus money for a job well done. Is this a great country or what?

What didn’t happen is this: Mortgages were not written down in mass to assist underwater home owners and those who suffered from predatory loans. No lasting jobs programs were created to put the unemployed back to work. No lasting penalties were paid by the individuals who took down the economy. And there was no serious effort at all to cap financial wages and bonuses in the name of justice.

All in all, you could not have designed a more perfect program to enrich the rich and do absolutely nothing for the 99 percent — and as a result, sink ever more children into poverty.

Waiting for the Recovery That Will Never Come

We are constantly told that the recovery is just around the corner. Liberals say we need more stimulus. Conservatives call for more austerity and cuts in regulations. But all agree that sooner or later more growth will benefit the 99 percent. Unfortunately, it’s not happening and it won’t happen. Here’s why.

First of all, they assume that trickledown actually works, that there is something mechanical within our heavily financialized economy that will bring renewed prosperity to the 99 percent. They look back at previous recessions and recoveries and continue to believe that slumps are followed by renewed growth and income gains for all.

But as financialization has spread throughout the economy, new mechanisms are in place that siphon off wealth into financial gains for the very few. Productive enterprises are turned into financial enterprises that are loaded up with debt and then carved and slaughtered so that wealth can be extracted for hedge funds and private equity firms. In our brave new financialized economy renewed growth turns into renewed incomes primarily for the investment class. The stock market will rise but jobs and incomes won’t. The traditional capitalist slump-recovery process died more than a decade ago. Adam Smith’s invisible hand no longer produces shared prosperity — instead it picks our pockets.

Waiting for the Political Pendulum to Swing

Second, we are told how America is essentially a moderate country — how there’s a kind of invisible political pendulum that swings from the extremes back to the sensible center. When the left or the Tea Party gets too wild, the center supposedly pulls them back and common sense economics prevails. But this consoling media meme obscures the fact that our politics are moving ever more rightward. Moderate Democrats and Republicans today are to the right of Eisenhower, Nixon and even Herbert Hoover. They have already agreed to cut the very entitlements that are needed to help alleviate poverty. In fact, they have agreed it’s quite OK for America to have 442 billionaires and also have 22.6% of its children living in poverty. The sensible center now sees its role as forging a “compromise” on how much to cut food stamps and other supports for the poor.

Obviously, both political parties lose little sleep worrying about economic injustices. Even most Democrats no longer have a serious game plan to eradicate poverty. That’s considered to be 1960s stuff that doesn’t make sense in a world where politicians have to make peace with at least some players in the billionaire class in order to survive. As for the poor, alas, they will always be with us.

America Leads the World

Not a day goes by without hearing about “American exceptionalism.” We are told by our leaders and pundits that we are the best, the greatest, the mightiest and the most democratic of all nations. It is our mission in life to uphold justice and freedom around the world. But as this chart shows, when it comes to child poverty, we are just about dead last.

Why is that? Because in wealthy nations, children live in poverty if and only if that nation allows it. Our nation, the richest in history, has more than enough wealth to go from the bottom of this list to the top, right next to Finland, if only we decided to act justly.

A Simple Proposal to end Child Poverty

America has 442 billionaires with an average net worth of $4.2 billion eachaccording to Forbes. That means collectively these 442 Americans have nearly $1.9 trillion in wealth.

During the current “recovery,” these 442 billions saw their wealth rise on average by over 12 percent per year. What would happened if those billionaires received only 6 percent a year and the other 6 percent were taxed away in order to pull all of our children out of poverty?

That would provide sufficient revenue so that each child now living in poverty would receive an extra $7,000 per year which would pull nearly all of their families above the poverty line. The 442 billionaires would not suffer. No one in their families would go hungry. No luxury goods or services would be out of reach. No cooks, maids, chauffeurs or pilots would have to be let go. The 442 billionaires would feel no pain at all — not even an itch. As a result of this painless tax, America would eradicate childhood poverty overnight.

Dream on?

Of course, our simple proposal sounds insane in a world where austerity reigns supreme and where billionaires are immune from such redistributive proposals. But I wonder who is sane and who isn’t. It seems utterly psychotic to live in a society that chooses to spread poverty to its young. It also seems psychotic to claim that cuts in food stamps are good for the poor while at the same time saying that it’s quite OK for billionaires to pile up unearned, tax-sheltered income. The fact that we’re putting up with all this should be driving us all insane.

Sooner or later, the millions of Americans who still have souls that ache for justice will take democracy into their own hands. I don’t know how it will happen or when, but one day we will eradicate needless poverty and reclaim our nation from those who are robbing it blind.

3 Incredible Charts

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute in New York, and author of How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America’s Wealth (J. Wiley and Sons, 2013).

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/americas-greatest-shame-child-poverty-rises-and-food-stamps-cut-while-billionaires?akid=11103.123424.W7X-8c&rd=1&src=newsletter918440&t=3

 

GOP Ignores Children Once They’re Outside The Womb

Source: National Memo

Author: Cynthia Tucker

A recent road trip took me into the precincts of rural Georgia and Florida, far away from the traffic jams, boutique coffeehouses and National Public Radio signals that frame my familiar landscape. Along the way, billboards reminded me that I was outside my natural habitat: anti-abortion declarations appeared every 40 or 50 miles.

Pregnant? Your baby’s heart is already beating!” “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. — God.” And, with a photo of an adorable smiling baby, “My heart beat 18 days from conception.”

The slogans suggest a stirring compassion for women struggling with an unplanned pregnancy and a deep-seated moral aversion to pregnancy termination. But the morality and compassion have remarkably short attention spans, losing interest in those children once they are outside the womb.

These same stretches of Georgia and Florida, like conservative landscapes all over the country that want to roll back reproductive freedoms, are thick with voters who fight the social safety net that would assist children from less-affluent homes. Head Start, Medicaid and even food stamps are unpopular with those voters.

Through more than 25 years of writing about Roe vs. Wade and the politics that it spawned, I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the huge gap between anti-abortionists’ supposed devotion to fetuses and their animosity toward poor children once they are born. (Catholic theology at least embraces a “whole-life” ethic that works against both abortion and poverty, but Catholic bishops have seemed more upset lately about contraceptives than about the poor.) While many conservative voters explain their anti-abortion views as Bible-based, their Bibles seem to have edited out Jesus’ charity toward the less fortunate.

That brain-busting cognitive dissonance is also on full display in Washington, where just last week the GOP-dominated House of Representatives passed a bill that would outlaw all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. After the bill was amended to make exceptions for a woman’s health or rape — if the victim reports the assault within 48 hours — U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) withdrew his support. The exceptions made the bill too liberal for his politics.

Meanwhile, this same Republican Congress has insisted on cutting one of the nation’s premier food-assistance programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. GOP hardliners amended the farm bill wending its way through the legislative process to cut $2 billion from food stamps because, they believe, it now feeds too many people. Subsidies to big-farming operations, meanwhile, remained largely intact.

The proposed food stamp cuts are only one assault on the programs that assist less-fortunate children once they are born. Republicans have also trained their sights on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s relentless budget-cutter, wants to turn Medicaid into a block grant to the states, which almost certainly means that fewer people would be served. About half of Medicaid’s beneficiaries are children.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Protection Act, whose name implies more medical knowledge than its proponents actually have, has no chance of becoming law since it won’t pass the Senate. Its ban on abortion after 20 weeks, passed by the House along partisan lines, was merely another gratuitous provocation designed to satisfy a conservative base that never tires of attacks on women’s reproductive freedom.

Outside Washington, however, attempts to limit access to abortion are gaining ground. From Alaska to Alabama, GOP-dominated legislatures are doing everything they can think of to curtail a woman’s right to choose. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 14 states have enacted new restrictions on abortion this year.

That re-energized activism around reproductive rights slams the door on recent advice from Republican strategists who want their party to highlight issues that might draw a broader array of voters. Among other things, they have gently — or stridently, depending on the setting — advised Republican elected officials to downplay contentious social issues and focus on job creation, broad economic revival and income inequality. Clearly, those Republican lawmakers haven’t gotten the message.

Still, GOP bigwigs get furious when they are accused of conducting a war on women. But what else is it? It’s clearly not a great moral crusade to save children.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.nationalmemo.com/gop-ignores-children-once-theyre-outside-the-womb/