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Lori Sturdevant is an OpEd writer for my local Minneapolis Star Tribune. She wrote the piece below which appeared in the paper's Sunday, October 24, 2010 edition. It deals with former Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton, who is poised to become the state's first Democratic Governor in nearly two decades. This piece is notable not so much for its Minnesota information, but for the national data it contains which deals with the widening gap in incomes between the upper 1% and everybody else. The bolding and capitalization you will see is mine, and my own comments willfollow her piece at bottom below, in bold italic.
THE PENNY-PINCHED ARE DRAWN TO DAYTON
Minnesotans are feeling the squeeze, which may help bring the election of DFL candidate with "tax the rich" agenda.
These may not be the golden years. When I started searching some months back for explanations for former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton's 2010 political resurrection, I saw one theme skipping repeatedly across my computer screen: income inequality.
The average income gap between the bottom- and top-earning deciles of the U.S. population is now wider than it has ever been, surpassing even the excesses of a portentous year in U.S. economic history, 1928.
A gap that wide packs political punch, perhaps especially in historically communitarian, populist Minnesota. One of its consequences could be the election of a DFL candidate for governor who says he'll tax the rich to shore up eroding public services for the poor and middle class.
Here's some of what's accumulated in my inequality file:
• The U.S. Census data released last month showed that the top-earning 20 percent of U.S. households earned 50 percent of the nation's income last year. The bottom quintile's share: 3.4 percent.
• The top 0.01 percent of U.S. earners raked in 6 percent of the nation's income in 2007 -- the year before the crash -- beating their 1928 share by a full percentage point, reported economists Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley.
• The same researchers found that two-thirds of total income gains from 2002 to 2007 went to the top 1 percent of U.S. households.
• Though the onset of the Great Recession hit the nation's top earners harder on a percentage basis than the rest of Americans, Saez predicted a few months ago that the big downturn won't narrow the nation's income gap. Top earners have rebounded nicely since 2008 -- some of them with the help of federal bailouts to the financial industry. (See why TARP remains a dirty word, even though it's about to be repaid?)
GRAPH COURTESY OF TOMCAT OVER AT THE EXCELLENT BLOG POLITICS PLUS (http://www.politicsplus.org/).
Those stats measure the extent to which the spoils of the American economy have been stacking up in the financial accounts of people at the top. My file also includes new research, both global and local, that shows why excessive income inequality is bad for a society. For instance:
• Inequality shortens lifespans. A new Twin Cities study by Wilder Research, commissioned by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, found that average lifespans in high-income areas of the Twin Cities are 82 years, eight years longer than the average in the region's poorest quarters.
• Inequality increases social ills including crime, chemical dependency and mental illness. It also heightens mistrust, which drives political wedges deeper. Those findings are detailed in "The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger" (Bloomsbury, 2009) by British public health researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.
• INEQUALITY IS A THREAT TO ECONOMIC RECOVERY. In his book "Fault Lines" (Princeton University Press, 2010), former International Monetary Fund chief economist Raghuram Rajan describes the systemic flaws in the global economy that contributed to the Great Recession and put recovery at risk. The fault line he says is most important: rising income inequality in the United States.
• The ever-lucid former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich explains why in his new book, "Aftershock" (Knopf, 2010). Through nearly 40 years of rising income inequality, spending by middle Americans has been propped up by three coping measures: women entering the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s, the availability of second jobs to supplement income in the 1990s, and borrowing against home equity in the 2000s.
All of those options are now tapped out, Reich says. Americans in the middle have little choice but to spend less and scale back. And without average Americans pulling the world's consumption wagon, the wagon won't move at its old clip. It might not move much at all.
Minnesotans may not know these inequality stats and stories. But my hunch is that to a considerable degree, they feel them. They know that they're working harder and not getting ahead.
This country is tapped out. We were once the richest country in the world. We were the world's greatest lender nation 30 years ago, before the conservative Republican "Reagan Revolution" began implementing "free market" economic policies, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and busting labor unions for workers. THE NET RESULT IS THAT WE ARE NOW THE WORLD'S GREATEST DEBTOR NATION AND THAT WE HAVE BECOME A POORER AMERICA FOR THE MAJORITY AND A VASTLY WEALTHIER AMERICA FOR ONLY A TINY, TINY MINORITY. George W. Bush and his conservative Republican Congress accelerated this phenomenon with huge tax cuts for the rich and the active advocacy of exportating good-paying American jobs to countries outside our border. This, and the continued Republican (and now Tea Party) push for deregulation has DESTROYED OUR ECONOMY AND MADE YOU BECOME BROKE!
LIKE WORKING TWO JOBS? lIKE NOT BEING ABLE TO BUY THAT CAR, TAKE THAT VACATION, OR SEND YOUR CHILD TO A DECENT UNIVERSITY? LIKE KNOWING THERE ARE CEOs OUT THERE MAKING 300 TIMES AS MUCH AS YOU, PAYING LITTLE OR NO TAXES, LIVING A LIFE OF WORRY-FREE COMFORT AND LUXURY WHILE YOU HAVE TO SWEAT AND FRET FROM PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK?
Thank the conservative Republicans and their "government hands-off, free market economics" for that. YOU'D BETTER THINK TWICE ABOUT VOTING FOR A REPUBLICAN OR TEA PARTY CANDIDATE ON NOVEMBER 2. THEY'RE THE REASON THINGS ARE SO TOUGH RIGHT NOW, AND THEY'LL NEVER GO TO BAT FOR YOU...THEY'RE FAR MORE INTERESTED IN PROTECTING BIG BUSINESS AND BIG MONEY BY WEAKENING YOUR GOVERNMENT!
Remember, they'll just do more to make the rich even richer and you even poorer. Remember, too, that THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT YOUR ENEMY. THOSE WHO WANT TO GIVE THE WEALTHY AND BIG BUSINESS FREE REIN AND CONTINUED AND EVEN EXPANDED TAX CUTS ARE YOUR ENEMY, AND THEY ARE CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS AND TEA PARTY CANDIDATES!
VOTING FOR A REPUBLICAN OR TEA PARTY CANDIDATE IS COMMITTING ECONOMIC SUICIDE. THOSE PARTIES WILL AID ONLY WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS AND CORPORATIONS, NOT YOU OR YOUR FAMILY.THE SQUEEZE IS ON, AND IT'S UP TO YOU TO PUSH BACK BY VOTING AGAINST THESE PEOPLE ON NOVEMBER 2!