Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Republican's War on the Poor

Americans have learned during the Great Recession that "trickle-down economics" has been nothing but a cruel 30-year hoax. Americans have been made well aware that Republican polices have only driven widening economic disparity and greater income inequity, and as a result, created a second "gilded age".

Now today half the U.S. population is poor, or almost poor (with almost 30 million unemployed) - - and there are a growing number of people who can't even afford that most basic of

More Americans said they struggled to buy food in 2011 than in any year since the financial crisis, according to a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit research group. About 18.6 percent of people -- almost one out of every five -- told Gallup pollsters that they couldn't always afford to feed everyone in their family in 2011.

One might assume that number got smaller wrapped up with the national unemployment rate falling for several consecutive months. In actuality, the reverse proved true: the number of people who said they couldn't afford food just kept rising and rising.

The findings from FRAC highlight what many people already know: The economic recovery, in theory now more than two years old, has done little to keep millions of Americans out of poverty and deprivation. Incomes for many haven't kept pace with the cost of living, and for a large swath of the country, things today are as bad as ever, or worse.

Forty-six million people lived below the poverty line as of 2010, a record number, according to the Census Bureau, and one that's not even as high as some other estimates would have it. Take a further step back and the situation appears even more dire. About 45 percent of people in the U.S. have reported not being able to cover their basic living expenses, including food, shelter and transportation, according to the group Wider Opportunities for Women.

The official poverty rate is about 15 percent, but over two-fifths of Americans have so little saved that one financial emergency is all it would take to put them in poverty, according to the Corporation for Enterprise Development.

These high rates of financial insecurity -- a consequence of the weak job market, and the prevalence of jobs that don't pay very well -- are making themselves felt at the level of everyday spending.

Recently, for example, in another study the Center for Housing Policy found that a growing number of middle-income owners and renters are paying more than half their earnings just to keep a roof over their heads.

And according to a recently published study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, as of 2009, almost one in five Americans over 50 years old were skipping on doctor visits, switching to cheaper medications or forgoing some medicines entirely out of financial necessity.

As for widespread hunger of the kind recorded by FRAC, research shows that the entire country ends up paying one way or another. While the people who can't afford food are obviously suffering the worst, the social costs incurred -- from the money spent to keep food pantries open to the lifelong diminished earning power of impoverished children -- come to about $167 billion a year, or $542 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Almost half of all working Americans earn less than $27,000 a year - - when the poverty line for a family of four is $22,314. If any of those families could have afforded their own healthcare insurance, they would have paid an average of $414 per month last year. Millions of unemployed Americans might have once been eligible for COBRA too, but most couldn't afford those high insurance rates either.

The Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), something poor people need, claiming a mandate is "unconstitutional". But we already have a healthcare mandate, it's called Medicare (we pay Medicare taxes in our paychecks). But just like Social Security, Medicare is also something the Republican leadership (representing the wealthy) wants to end...because the wealthy don't NEED Medicare and Social Security for themselves, and therefore, don't want to contribute on behalf of everyone else.

Just like with the Republicans wanting to de-fund Planned Parenthood and opposing birth control insurance for Catholic organizations who hire non-Catholic employees (something poor people need), because a small portion of tax dollars fund abortions. If I opposed the war in Afghanistan, would I have a right to refuse paying federal income taxes because I didn't agree? But the GOP is using a false argument based on "religious freedom", rather than admit they are only trying to de-fund programs that primarily benefit the poor, or almost poor, and unemployed.

And besides Social Security and Medicare, the GOP also wants to cut the food stamps, Medicaid, and TANF - - something else that the poor, or almost poor, and unemployed need.

The poor, almost poor, and unemployed are the people that the Republicans chastise and falsely accuse of not paying any federal income taxes, and then saying "they need to put more skin in the game" (as if they haven't already been skinned by Republican policies).

The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, boldly claims: Nearly Half of All Americans Don’t Pay Income Taxes. But these figures also include children, the retired, and others who do not participate in the labor force. In one sentence the Heritage Foundation explains: "That means 151.7 million Americans paid nothing in 2009. By comparison, 34.8 million tax filers paid no taxes in 1984."

Yes, while it's true that almost half of the total U.S. population (151.7 million) do not pay any federal income taxes, keep in mind that the other half of the U.S. population equals about 100% of our total work force (153.8 million. (The U.S. Census Bureau currently reports the total U.S. population as 313.1 million.)

The labor force participation rate is the ratio between the labor force and the overall size of the national population between the ages of 16 and 65. The Bureau of Labor Statistic reports that the U.S. has a civilian labor force participation rate of 63.7 percent -- and the Department of Labor reports (PDF) that last year in 2011 the U.S. had a labor force of 153.8 million.

So essentially the Heritage Foundation is claiming that most people who work (98.6%) don't pay any federal taxes, because the 151.7 million that they report as tax dodgers is 98.6% of the total U.S. work force (153.8 million).

So it's a myth that half of all working Americans don't pay federal income taxes (typical GOP propaganda for America's "dumbed down".) In truth 86% of all working-age Americans pay federal income taxes, even including the unemployed (almost 30 million under and unemployed). Here is the full quote from the Tax Policy Center,

"The fraction of tax units paying no income tax varies widely by filing status and type of unit. About 47 percent of single filers will owe no tax, compared with 38 percent of joint filers and 72 percent of heads of household. More than half of elderly tax units and tax units with children will pay no income tax this year."

I've been unemployed over 3 years. In 2010 this blogger earned $9,000 in unemployment benefits before they had expired in June of that year, and I owed federal income taxes. Then last year, only after becoming totally indigent, did I finally qualify for food stamps in 2011. (Read more: Obama's 'Welfare State')

Yet the Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are proposing tax plans to mostly benefit large corporations (over small businesses) and the very wealthy, primarily at the cost and expense to programs that the poor, almost poor, and the unemployed vitally need for their very survival. (In Mitt Romney's new proposed tax plan, his low tax rate on his carried interest and capital gains stays at the same tax rate.)

Why would a poor, almost poor, or unemployed voter ever vote for a Republican candidate when it's common knowledge that the Republican leadership has always used psychology and propaganda to promote fear-mongering to get votes, only to turn around and represent the interests of big oil, large corporations, and the wealthy?

*Excerpted and edited from an article at the HuffPo by Alexander Eichler and expanded on from my earlier posts.

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