Americans have always preferred the phony myths of their greatness to the sordid realities of their mediocrity. That observation has just as much validity in 2012 as it did in 1953 or 1913, or 1883. The wider the gap between truth and fiction, the greater the amount of bullshit required to fill it. Witness the presidential election this year.
Unfortunately, no amount of bullshit can fill up the very deep hole in which so many Americans find themselves. For millions and millions of them that hole is getting deeper and there is no possibility that they will ever escape it. The Associated Press recently released a story called US Poverty On Track To Reach Highest Level Since The 1960s. This story anticipates Census Bureau findings due out in the fall.
WASHINGTON — The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.
Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the critical weeks ahead of the November elections.
The Associated Press surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest level since 1965.
Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth...
"The issues aren't just with public benefits. We have some deep problems in the economy," said Peter Edelman, director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy.
He pointed to the recent recession but also longer-term changes in the economy such as globalization, automation, outsourcing, immigration, and less unionization that have pushed median household income lower. Even after strong economic growth in the 1990s, poverty never fell below a 1973 low of 11.1 percent. That low point came after President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty, launched in 1964, that created Medicaid, Medicare and other social welfare programs.
"I'm reluctant to say that we've gone back to where we were in the 1960s. The programs we enacted make a big difference. The problem is that the tidal wave of low-wage jobs is dragging us down and the wage problem is not going to go away anytime soon," Edelman said...
Why, Mr. Edelman, are you reluctant to say we've gone back to where we were in the 1960s? On the other hand, you are certainly right about the "tidal wave" of low-wage jobs. And yes, that problem is not going away anytime soon.
The analysts' estimates suggest that some 47 million people in the U.S., or 1 in 6, were poor last year. An increase of one-tenth of a percentage point to 15.2 percent would tie the 1983 rate, the highest since 1965. The highest level on record was 22.4 percent in 1959, when the government began calculating poverty figures.
As Henry Blodget points out in the video below, the next poorest group, the Americans who live just above the official poverty line, consists of about 100 million people. And as I pointed out last December, 146.4 million Americans live within 200% of the poverty line.
The story goes on to cite a 2011 poll which found that 79% of Americans "think the gap between rich and poor has grown in the past two decades." Aside from the observation that we should care less what uninformed Americans think about anything, Reuters published this astonishing story the other day.
(Reuters) - Rich individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets in offshore tax havens, representing up to $280 billion in lost income tax revenues, according to research published on Sunday.
The study estimating the extent of global private financial wealth held in offshore accounts - excluding non-financial assets such as real estate, gold, yachts and racehorses - puts the sum at between $21 and $32 trillion.
The research was carried out for pressure group Tax Justice Network, which campaigns against tax havens, by James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Co.
He used data from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations and central banks.
I don't know how many of those trillions in offshore accounts belong to Americans, but we can safely assume that the correct answer is several. Thus in the 21st century humans are setting (or will set) new records for poverty and unfairness. This fact should not surprise us. Since the dawn of complex, hierarchical civilizations about six thousand years ago, there has always been a grotesquely unequal distribution of the human wealth. In a world of seven billion people, we expect such trends to be magnified, and of course they are. This trend has become especially exaggerated in the United States.
Despite the widespread human belief in endless Progress, we have gone "back to the future" in both poverty and unfairness. In short, the future looks like the deep historical past writ large.
These sordid observations speak for themselves, so I will refrain from adding other cynical comments.
Bonus Video — From the Daily Ticker's U.S. Poverty About To Hit Highest Level In 40 Years.