Friday, December 7, 2012

My Once-Middle-Class America

When taxes go up on the top 2% after the end of the year, will Bill
O'Reilly be an honorable man, keep his promise, and quit his job at Fox News?

The Republicans, plutocrats, conservatives, oligarchs, right-wing-nuts, Christian evangelists, billionaires, secessionists, Tea Partiers, economic extremists, anarchists and Southern plantation owners (henceforth referred to as the GOP for the sake of this post) all say they want "smaller government" --- less taxes (on the wealthy), less spending (on the middle-class and poor), and less regulation (on banks and major corporations).

In July of 1973, when I had been a senior in high school, the U.S. population was almost 212 million. Now in November of 2012 the U.S. population has grown to almost 315 million. Over the last 40 years, while I was working hard for a living, the U.S. population has grown by over 100 million more people (more than 33%).

My first full-time job after high school in 1973 was at a sheet metal factory in Western Massachusetts, paying me $7.85 an hour (or $16,000 a year). That was considered to be a fairly decent wage, for that time and place, and for someone without a college education. I had belonged to a union, I had healthcare insurance, and I had a pension plan. I also had the opportunity to work on Saturdays for over-time pay if I ever wanted or needed a little extra cash in my pocket. My rent at that time, for an averagely-nice one bedroom apartment, was $200 a month. And at 18 years old, I could also afford to buy a very nice 6-year-old car, so I drove a 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix.

40 years ago, it was mostly high school teenagers who worked at places like the A&W drive-ins, Dairy Queen or McDonalds. Now it's adults, trying to support a family. Back then, the minimum wage was $1.60 an hour, just a little more than what Apple currently pays their employees at Foxconn in China in 2012. Apple's CEO Tim Cook has a pay package worth about $400 million.

My last job in 2008 was as casino bartender in Las Vegas earning $16 a hour (or $33,000 a year). I belonged to a union, had healthcare insurance and a pension plan. Over the past 40 years my wages barely rose 50%, but a similar one-bedroom apartment today costs $800 (four times more that what I paid 40 years ago). The rule of thumb used to be that what one earned in a week should be equivalent to what one
paid for rent or a home mortgage*. Now it's more like 50% of a household income, and that's why 80% of American households now need two income earners.

* Millionaires like Fox News' Bill O'Reilly don't worry about home mortgages; they can pay CASH for their beachfront mansions and don't need the home mortgage deduction on their tax returns. (Speaking of which, WHEN taxes go up on the top 2% after the end of the year, will Bill O'Reilly be an honorable man, keep his promise and quit his job? I sure hope so!)

The federal minimum wage in 2012 is only $7.25 an hour, less than what I earned at my first job 40 years ago. Two of America's largest employers, Wal-Mart and McDonalds, pay their employees slightly more than the minimum wage; and their employees don't belong to a union. And most of them don't have healthcare insurance or a pension plan either. And rarely can they ever work over-time to make extra money. Instead, and by design, most are only working part-time.

In 1973 the company I worked for was a small family-owned business with about 100 employees. Today Wal-Mart and McDonalds are multi-billion-dollar corporations, with about 2 million domestic employees between them in the U.S. The Waltons (owners of Wal-Mart) collectively have a net worth of over $100 billion. But a great many of their employees have to use food stamps and other government services (free stuff) just to survive, because $8.50 an hour is not a "living wage" today.

In 1973, most Americans didn't need a college education to find a half-way decent good-paying job...a job that paid a real living wage. And back then the CEOs still made money and corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonalds grew, prospered, and went global.

But since that time over 40 years ago, I've seen millions of the better-paying jobs in manufacturing go to places like China for cheaper labor. Since that time (when I got my first job and drove that nice 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix) we now have millions of college graduates that are either unemployed, or are forced to work in places like Wal-Mart or McDonalds for sub-standard wages.

The very first company I worked for in 1973 might have been bought by Bain Capital since that time, then shipped my old job to China, where Donald Trump makes his ties and where Apple builds their iPads.

Meanwhile, CEO Tim Cook of Apple makes millions of dollars every year while his manufacturing employees work in slave-labor sweat-shop conditions in China for an average of $1 an hour. Now think of something else that's almost as immoral - - - American slaves from Africa working 16 hours a day picking cotton  for $0 an hour in 1863.

The U.S. population has grown by 33% since I first started working for a living 40 years ago --- so I suppose "government" has gotten "bigger" as well, so now we have "big government". In 1941 the population was only 133 million when the "Greatest Generation" fought in World War II, so the GOP's pathetic argument about "big government" could also have been made 40 years ago back in 1973.

And because people have such a difficult time finding a job these days, especially a job that allows them to afford to pay for rent, food, heat, and clothing --- then I also suppose that many more people are also being forced into using more government services, such as food stamps and other "free stuff".

In other words, because the large corporate "job creators" refuse to pay fair wages (thanks in part to GOP union busting and the Republican sponsored right-to-work state laws) the government is morally and financially obligated into subsidizing those low wages with taxpayer-paid government services (such as food stamps) to compensate for all the corporate greed.

But the GOP wants less food stamps and less taxes, so the government could no longer provide food stamps to poor Americans who still need to eat. I just heard that food stamps went up, going from 30 million people under George W. Bush when the economy had just crashed in late 2008, to 45 million people in 2012 when we now have 30 million unemployed and under-employed Americans. But I'm not surprised. I was laid off in 2008 and I am also one of "47%" who is getting "free stuff" to keep myself alive.

And that really pisses off the, staying alive, by using food stamps.

Last year 75.5 million Americans (50% of the total U.S. workforce) earned less that $27,000 a year. A vast number are living in poverty...and many were once part of the middle-class. They weren't cradle-to-the-grave "welfare queens", just ordinary hard-working people who were either laid off from work, became disabled or ill, or were forced into taking low-paying jobs.

Today only 42% of private sector workers receive a pension (Re: Center for Retirement Research). As a result, 36% of all households end up relying solely on Social Security (averaging less than $15,000 a year). Most of these people had worked a life-time and paid FICA taxes.

Almost 9 million Americans are severely disabled, including military Veterans, and also rely on Obama's "free
stuff", averaging $13,572 a year in Social Security disability benefits.

But it was just reported that corporate profits are AGAIN at all-time highs in 2012, and the AFL-CIO reports that the average CEO on the S&P 500 now rakes in $13 million a year --- year after year
after year.

All this "free stuff" hasn't been hurting the "job creators" at all. So what has the GOP complaining about?

And various studies have also shown that income inequality and the disparity of wealth has never been wider than it is today since the early 20th century during the "Gilded Age".

Other studies gave shown, especially for the top 1% and large corporations, that taxes have been historically low (especially since the Bush tax cuts over a decade ago). But the GOP has been whining like stuck pigs over "high taxes", ever since President Obama was first elected in 2008, even though he never raised taxes,
but instead, EXTENDED the Bush tax for two more years.

Tax revenues built the national highway system in the 1950s. Taxes paid for the space programs that took us to the moon in 1969 and gave us the Space Shuttle missions. Taxes paid for much of the research and development that U.S. corporations use and profit from. Taxes fund the vast military industrial complex, a favorite for the GOP.

Now here we are again in 2012, one hundred years later after our "Captains of Industry" have AGAIN driven a great proportion of the American population back into poverty; but now we also have "bigger government". But the GOP says they want "smaller government".

Grover Norquist wants to "shrink government down to the size where he can drown it in the bathtub". I sincerely wish that people like Grover Norquist would drown.

When the GOP says "smaller government", do they really mean they want less people, or a lot more poor people? Because we are always going to have more people (especially if the GOP ever overturns Roe v. Wade). So I can only assume that the GOP wants a lot more poor people...such as the elderly and disabled. And the GOP also wants less "government", so that disadvantaged Americans get no help at all.

The GOP wants lower wages (with NO minimum wage at all), lower taxes (lower than they already are), and just enough government spending to fund the $600 billion-a-year defense industry. And the GOP wants no regulations at all on the banks that drove the economy over the cliff in 2008 and destroyed the housing market. And the GOP wants no regulations at all on the big corporations who continue to ship jobs overseas, pays a very low EFFECTIVE corporate tax rate, and pays their CEOs millions of dollars every year while only paying a very low capital gains tax on their compensation packages (just like Mitt Romney), while paying their employees minimum wages.

The GOP must think that all those disabled Veterans, all those old people from the Greatest Generation and all their children (the Baby Boomers) should all just shut the hell up so that all the huge multi-national corporate conglomerates such as Apple, McDonalds and Wal-Mart can earn more record profits and have more "certainty" in the "free markets", while paying their CEOs millions of dollars more next year.

The GOP doesn't think that the poor and middle-class in this country need any "certainty" at all in their lives. The GOP must believe that all those useless Americans (the "takers", the "47%") should pick themselves by their boot straps and just go away.

It's a pity that the younger generation of today may never know the prosperity that America once had from 1946 to 1979 (when the middle-class was born and when it had peaked). For the last 40 years, the politicians and their corporate sponsors have destroyed the middle-class --- the politicians for self-preservation (to keep themselves in office for the past 40 years), and the corporations, for old-fashion greed.

Now in 2012 we have "Black Friday" shoppers, people that the corporations turned into desperate animals, camping outside for a week in front of the store to save a few bucks. The trampling mobs, turning violent, fighting over trinkets and other cheap goods.

I was very lucky to have been born, raised, and lived most of my life at the peek of America's once-middle-class, when people seemed more civilized, less desperate, and had more hope, expectations, and aspirations for their future.

I miss my 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix. Today I live in Las Vegas. I'm surrounded by money, but I can no longer afford to own a car.

Thanks Wal-Mart. Thanks McDonalds. Thanks Apple. Thanks

CHART BELOW - GOOGLE FINANCE - This is the stock market over the past 40 years. Corporations grew and prospered while wages stagnated, as CEO pay skyrocketed, when the better-paying jobs were being sent overseas. During that same time period corporate taxes and capital gains taxes on their stock has steadily declined. Just like Mitt Romney said, "I'm not concerned about the rich, they're doing just fine." Over the last 40 years the rich got richer as the poor got the once-middle-class has declined.

P.S. - To all the Republicans, plutocrats, conservatives, oligarchs, right-wing-nuts, Christian evangelists, secessionists, Tea Partiers, economic extremists, anarchists and Southern plantation owners : The government DOES create jobs. The government is, and has always been the #1 "job creator" ever since 1941 --- ahead of Wal-Mart, McDonalds and Apple. Almost HALF the budget goes to defense spending, not to lazy people like myself relying on food stamps. This "big government" also pays the salaries of the GOP politicians who accuse me of being on the government dole, when they themselves are. And over the next 40 years, I expect our government will be much bigger, no matter what the GOP wants.

P.S.S. --- Today's minimum wage should be at the very least $14 an hour, almost double than what it currently is.

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