Thursday, July 12, 2012

In the minds of the rich, the poor, even the working poor, seem to be at fault for most of our economic troubles, from the national debt, to the cost of government programs, the lack of adequate housing, to the obesity epidemic, to the staggering cost of the “war on drugs.’’ They are even blamed by some for various ills like HIV and AIDS and the drug abuse “epidemic.”

July 12, 2012 - Issue 480
Cover Story
How Did The Problem Of Poverty Disappear?
Solidarity America  By John Funiciello 
BC Columnist 

The war on the poor seems to be going very well.

In the minds of the rich, the poor, even the working poor, seem to be 
at fault for most of our economic troubles, from the national debt, to 
the cost of government programs, the lack of adequate housing, to the
obesity epidemic, to the staggering cost of the “war on drugs.’’  They 
are even blamed by some for various ills like HIV and AIDS and the 
drug abuse “epidemic.”

The incarceration rate of black and other minority young men that 
outstrips most other countries, just in general terms, has everything to
do with poverty.  The attitude is that, “if you’re poor, you’re going to 
jail.”  That’s especially true if you’re poor and African-American or 

Anyone who had occasion to watch or hear the Republican candidates 
in the presidential primary campaign spout off on what is wrong with 
the American economy knows that the GOP view is that most of the 
problem stems from so many who don’t pay any federal taxes.  And, 
at the same time, they were militant against any source of new money
(taxes) from the rich and corporations.  They seemed prepared to 
protect them and their money and their accumulated wealth with their 
very lives.As for protecting the most vulnerable, the poor and the working poor, they were not so inclined to protect them and their families from anything (including natural or economic disasters) much less give them a helping hand.  If anything, they seemed to resolve to punish them for being vulnerable and quite powerless to defend themselves against the attacks of the Right Wing, no matter the party.  
For example, more IRS audits have been done on workers making 
between $7,000 and $25,000, than those who reported incomes of 
more than $100,000, as much as eight times that of the affluent or 

Why would this be true?  Why would the rich and powerful single out 
people who can’t defend themselves?  The answer:  Because they can’t
defend themselves!

They don’t have batteries of lawyers and accountants, advertising 
executives and copy writers, and, most of all, they don’t have scores 
or hundreds of politicians whose very existence in politics depends on 
millions, even billions, of dollars that keep them in office.  There are 
people who provide all of that and it isn’t the poor.

There were GOP candidates who, during the primary season, declared 
that only about 53 percent pay federal income taxes, indicating that 
those pesky poor people and low-wage workers don’t pay their fair 
share.  This, of course, ignores all of the sales taxes, excise taxes, 
fees, and licensing costs, along with Social Security and Medicare 
(both of which are federal taxes).   They pay much more of their 
income in taxes, fees, and other such costs than the average middle income worker and they pay much more as a percentage of their 
income than the rich.  That’s why sales taxes and similar taxes are so 
popular with right-wing politicians: They eat at your substance quietly 
and in small doses.

The Social Security (payroll) tax is 6.2 percent.  The Obama 
Administration has temporarily lowered that amount to 4.2 percent, as
part of the stimulus package.  Workers, no matter how much they are 
paid, pay this amount, as do those who are paid hundreds of 
thousands of dollars a year.  The difference is that there is no Social 
Security tax on incomes of more than $106,800, so those who are paid
millions a year only pay the 6.2 percent (or, 4.2 percent) on a small 
fraction of their income.  In addition, workers pay 1.45 percent for 
their Medicare tax.  You can see how much more heavily these taxes 
fall on those of low income or modest middle income.  The rich may 
pay only 2 percent of their income in these taxes. An army of Republicans and others on the right have made it a career 
goal to keep the poor poor and help the rich stay rich, or get richer.  
Long gone are the days when politicians of every stripe were aware of 
the plight of the poor (many of them elderly, disabled, or 
disadvantaged in some other way), and they spoke of this national 
problem and tried to find solutions to poverty.  Regularly, there was 
legislation introduced to try to relieve the burden of poverty, which 
brought with it inadequate housing, ignorance, ill health, and other 
evils of a deprived existence.  

Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America: Poverty in the United 
States, was said to have had an effect on President John F. Kennedy 
and had much to do with furthering President Lyndon Johnson’s War 
on Poverty.  There is little spoken in the modern era of eliminating 
poverty, certainly no “war on poverty.”  Rather, there seems to have 
been formulated a “war on the poor” in recent decades.  And, 
politicians and corporate leaders across the country shamelessly ignore
Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which calls for raising 
revenues for the defense of the nation and its “general welfare.”  
There has been an ongoing debate about what those two words mean, 
but it has been held to mean that the government will act in the best 
interests of the people.  

That is the last thing on the minds of the rich and powerful in America 
today.  Rather, what is on their minds is to remove any semblance of 
support from the poor, low-wage workers, the elderly, the disabled, 
and unemployed middle-income workers (all of those who are 
vulnerable to the vagaries of their precious “market” which they seem 
to be able to manipulate according to their own whims).   

To do this, they have been busy cutting budgets and slashing 
programs that benefit these most vulnerable, at the federal and state 
levels of government.  Of course, local governments, tied as they are 
to dispersal of money from the national budget, are left standing in 
their streets and wringing their hands, wondering what to do.

At the same time, there is plenty that corporations are doing to push 
along this destructive trend.  They not only lobby for these program 
cuts through their politicians, but they have systems of their own to 
exploit the poor. In his 2003 book, Perfectly Legal, David Cay 
Johnston, has a chapter in his book entitled, “Preying on the Working 
Poor,” in which he describes the IRS auditing 397,000 of the millions of working poor, who had applied for the earned income tax credit 
(EITC), a small benefit for those who do the tough work of the nation.
That number was eight times the number of IRS audits done on 
taxpayers who made $100,000 or more.  Johnston noted that, when 
Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, President Clinton, 
fearing that the Republican majority would gut the EITC program, 
made a deal: He would provide the IRS with $100 million additional 
funds to audit those who participated in the program.  The EITC is a 
program that provides a big income boost (from a few hundred dollars 
for some, to $4,140 maximum for others), and represents a relatively 
minor expense item in the federal budget that brings some relief to 
working families.   Even so, there were vociferous detractors.  Then Senator Don Nickles, an Oklahoma Republican, denounced the 
program as welfare and “an income redistribution program.”  He and 
others would have ended the program, since it is the kind of program 
that the Right Wing wants to end now, at all levels of government.  
Since he retired from the Senate in 2004, his firm, the Nickles Group, 
has been a consultant to corporations and trade groups, exploiting his 
connections to lawmakers and government agencies.

Johnston also explains the kind of industry that is not unique, which 
uses the poor as a cash cow: The tax preparation and quick-loan 
industry, which can charge interests that amount to (in one of the 
more outrageous examples Johnston cites) a 2000 percent annual 
rate, although a rate of 222 percent is more typical.  This is criminal, 
of course, but it is perfectly legal and, since it is the poor who are 
being exploited, politicians have saved their outrage for those who 
would ask the rich to pay more in taxes to help balance the nation’s 

Although Johnston’s book is not the first to point out the exploitation 
of the poor, it is one of the most recent that so explicitly does so.  
Since it was published in the last decade, it doesn’t seem to have 
made a difference in the attitude of the powerful, as Harrington’s book 
did.  There is no rush to find solutions to the misery and suffering of 
poverty (note the lack of interest in providing universal health care), 
on the part of any of the 1 percent. There is very little discussion on 
the floor of either house of the Congress and that attitude trickles 
down to the state legislatures and their members and functionaries.    
When there is a discussion about poverty and its ills, usually it is 
before an empty house and it’s just to get it into the record.What has happened is that there is no agitation from the people for 
the nation to rise up against poverty and the specter that it raises for 
this generation of youngsters, who are wandering the cities, wondering
when they might find a job. Many of their parents are wondering the 
same thing. Unemployment is unyielding in America, especially since 
the manufacturing base has been sent elsewhere and we have become
a service economy.  We have wars that never end and Corporate 
America has a pipeline into the national coffers that politicians support,
literally pouring the economic substance of the country from the 
people to the rich.

The powerful rich complain about the poor, the working poor, and the 
young.  They complain that they are not willing to work hard, while 
they themselves sit in air-conditioned offices manipulating the system 
to maintain the status quo.  The working poor do more work in a week
than the rich do in a year. If hard work automatically brings a worker 
the “American Dream,” there should be tens of millions more of the 
working poor sharing that dream, right now.  This picture is turned 
upside down.

It has been a long time since the Poor People’s Campaign, organized 
by Martin Luther King Jr. And the Southern Christian Leadership 
Conference, back in the late 1960s, in an effort to stop the Vietnam 
war and end racism and poverty.  Goals that they sought then are the 
same as now:  Stop the wars, end racism, end poverty.   A few more 
can be added for this time in our history:  Provide free public 
education, decent housing, and give the nation true universal 
healthcare for all. 

It’s time for renewed and expanded Poor Peoples’ Campaign! Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor 
organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he 
became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. 
He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In 
addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle
to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food 
producers and land developers.