Remember the Occupy movement, which was so big a couple of years ago? Groups of people all over America staged sit-ins all over the country to protest the fact that the top 1% of Americans hold 40% of the nation’s wealth. But then, days led into weeks, and nothing happened. The people went home.
For the first time in history, the majority of policymakers in Congress are millionaires, which sets them apart from the constituents that they represent. And it’s no secret that there aren’t any big lobby groups throwing dollars at our legislators to take action that will narrow the income gap. If the 1% are making the laws and running the companies, then who is looking out for the 99%?
Here in Maryland, we have a low overall poverty rate, but one of the highest “deep poverty” rates in the country; illustrating the gap in income between the rich and the very poor. Individuals living in deep poverty often don’t have a consistent address at which they can receive benefits, and even if they do, food stamps, welfare and unemployment benefits are not enough to raise them out of poverty. A recent Johns Hopkins study shows that kids classified as “urban disadvantaged” are highly likely to maintain this low-income status into adulthood – illustrating the width and depth of poverty in these neighborhoods.
There are several promising programs that nonprofits have adopted to assist people living in poverty. Locally, Living Classrooms Foundation is providing comprehensive academic, social, and vocational services to kids living in East Baltimore through their Children’s Target Investment Zone initiative. A similar comprehensive service model is being adopted by the Crittenton Women’s Union to connect women with mentors who can assist them in obtaining programmatic assistance to better their lot.
However, there is a need for more than Band-Aid solutions. The millionaire and billionaire legislators and company owners have to take the lead in making systemic changes to give people the social support, education, training, and opportunities to make middle-class incomes.
What’s in it for them? Nick Hanauer, one of the .01%, makes a compelling argument in his Politico magazine article that it’s actually in the best interest of the wealthy to bridge the income gap between the very rich and very poor. He explains that, although he earns a thousand times more than the median American annually, he doesn’t buy a thousand times more pants or shirts per year. So it’s in the best interest of our capitalist economy to spread out the wealth. This is point that makes good business sense, and wealthy CEOs need to acknowledge that trickle-down economics doesn’t work if they want to continue fostering demand for their products.
Perhaps more importantly, legislators need to implement policies that address the systemic issues that perpetuate poverty. They will only take notice if voters come together as a strong voice advocating for these policies and insisting on income equality. And, short of starting up another Occupy movement, voting is something easy that each of us can do this November.
What are some other strategies that can be employed to reduce income inequality? Please comment below with your thoughts and opinions.
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