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The Concentration of Wealth and the Spread of Poverty

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Don Hazen

The great underreported story of 2012 is the accelerated spread of poverty and concentration of wealth in the United States. As Joe Stiglitz told AlterNet in an interview this year, the amount the richest 1 percent of Americans are earning has “almost tripled since 1980,” and “we’ve wiped out 20 years of increases and wealth for the middle American” according to the Federal Reserve.

But not so for our political class. The Center for Responsive Politics reports Congressional wealth has increased 11 percent between 2009 and 2011. Forty-seven percent of Congress members are millionaires; in the Senate the number is 67 percent.

Meanwhile the numbers living in extreme poverty are growing rapidly, as Peter Edelman told AlterNet writer Karen Dolan in an interview this year: “Extreme poverty means having an income of less than half the poverty line. That’s less than $9,000 a year for a family of three. The stunning fact is that in 2010, there were 20.5 million people who had incomes that low. And perhaps even more disturbing — 6 million people have no income other than food stamps.”

Obama’s new health care law does raise the capital gains tax, but we’re in a political climate where the focus is on reducing benefits to the neediest. In 2013, AlterNet will be focused on profiling life at the poverty level, the collapse of the middle class and the seemingly endless concentration of wealth among the people who need it the least.


Don Hazen is the executive director of the Independent Media Institute and executive editor of the two-time Webby award-winning news site, AlterNet.org. The former publisher of Mother Jones magazine, Hazen has edited and co-edited several books, including; Dangerous Brew: Exposing the Tea Party’s Agenda to Take Over America, Start Making Sense: Turning the Lessons of Election 2004 into Winning Progressive Politics, The 99%: How Occupy Wall Street Movement is Changing America, among others.

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  • La Nortena

    This is the price we pay for ignorance of history,of culture and for Exceptionalism. Americans have a country and a people right next door that they have always held in contempt for their poverty which Americans have attributed to their ignorance, laziness, and, of course, color. If we had been watching, listening and really traveling, we would have seen all the signs of UNdevelopment by and for the rich of Mexico and the rest of the world……natural resources exported, local wealth exported, no true taxation for the rich and no tax base from anywhere else, lowest wages possible, no education system, no infrastructure, no………..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=719435296 Bradley P O’Brien

    Milliionaires in congress? That’s a strong argument for term limits. If not term limits we should impose an age at which a politician must leave office. We don’t need folks older than 65 enacting laws.

  • Owen Johnson

    Having traveled to Mexico frequently over the last 25 years and now living in Mexico, I can put a different twist on your analysis. While what you’re describing is a true Third World Country, Mexico (and most of Latin America) is now climbing out of that status. And the biggest change I see over the years is a growing middle class. For example, more Mexicans own cars and the class of cars they drive is nearly what you’d see in American cities — nearly, they’re not quite there yet. So what I see as the lesson for the US is what we know, and has been referred to often by President Obama: A healthy economy grows from the middle out. A healthy middle class makes the rich richer, without starving the rest of the population, and it shrinks the poorest class. The United States is going in the opposite direction, thanks to the greed of the corporate upper class, which now includes half of our elected Congress — and the White House and all members of the Administration.

  • http://blog.beCause.net/ Nadine B. Hack

    Like you, Don, I am deeply concerned about the growing inequality of wealth in the US (and globally) that I believe is of grave concern for our future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Julie-Dahlman/1457274801 Julie Dahlman

    I was very delighted last spring to spend a week in a loverly Mexican/American resort in Matzalan areas. Saw much poverty and much wealth. What was interesting it was a Mexican holiday and this was a place where the citizens (middle class) came to vacation. It also hosted high school students from across Mexico for four days of study and competition. Met these lovely students and then last night they were there, parents joined them and had a show of high school pride i.e. marching bands, dance, and culture. What a wonderful experience and a whole new outlook on the Mexican middle class.

  • betsy franklin

    Why is it considered OK in the U.S. for individuals without children to be ineligible for most public assistance? I don’t understand this. I live in Canada where there have also been cuts in welfare, but not so draconian.

  • Pole

    It looks like Charles Dickens England will reemerge in our lifetime. Rich and poor and not much in-between. So much for our Founding Father’s dream of a democracy or the biblical dream of each one sitting under his own palm tree. Human nature and the capitalistic ideal of self interest (greed in Biblical terms) won’t allow it. The world view of economic conservatives won’t allow it either. Its Dickens time again. No wonder he spoke of America as being hypocritical in its actions and pronouncements.

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzann.fulbright.9 Suzann Fulbright

    The time to have been concerned is back when Ronald Reagan ran for president. That was the beginning of the last wave of US fascist imperialism and we have been unable to rid ourselves of it ever since. Back then blaming the government was a convenient excuse used by Republicans to convince people to install their fascist candidates into positions of political power and they have been doing it ever since. And ever since things have gotten worse and worse and worse. Only a nation of complete morons would have listened to this crap and let them get away with it. Only a nation of idiots would install, in a government by and for the people, corporate plutocrats and then expect them to conduct government in ways that would be of benefit to “the people.” DER? Thanks to THIRTY YEARS of this stupidity we are into it three decades deep. Not even 2008 was a big enough wake-up call for people like the Tea Party morons. There is no overnight solution but we can start within the next two years with throwing every Republican in congress out on his ear.

  • Owen Johnson

    Suzann, I don’t think it’s fair to call the United States a “nation of complete morons.” We have been lied to by experts who have done their homework on human psychology and have used fear to sell their falsely stated ideas. Due to human nature, people are reluctant to admit they were duped or made a mistake so when things aren’t working the way they thought they would, the instinct is to try more of the same, thinking they didn’t do it enough to produce the desired result. Some of us are wise enough to change course when we’re not going the way we want, but not enough of us are that wise. Some of us are also wise enough to know when we’re being misled, but often not enough. Look at all the folks who habitually vote Republican because their parents did and believe everything Fox tells them because it reinforces their predetermined allegiance: they’re afraid to admit maybe they’ve been wrong all these years. So call them insecure, call them uneducated, call them unwise. But don’t call all of us morons.

  • Pam Barone

    I agree, Suzann. The very first letter to my congressman I wrote was during Ronald Reagan’s first term. The constant efforts to reduce taxes on capital gains, the mantra of smaller government repeated while in fact Reagan was expanding federal government beyond anything known before, in peacetime no less – these things were the beginnings of the political big lie. The big lie, where politicians repeat meaningless mantras when in fact they are doing the exact opposite of what they say. Remember the Bridge to Nowhere? Everybody ranted about it, when in fact it was a bridge between the town’s airport (on the island) and the rest of the city. It was no different than any other bridge in any other city, except somebody decided to give it a catchy name. Even the people who approved the spending had no problem pretending they opposed it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/texsbill Texsbill Gran

    democracy & capitalism are conceptually superior forms of gov’t & economics. the main problems resulting from our forms of government & economics is in their execution, implementation. as with most important elements & decisions in our usa, the top .01% call the shots. 1 of every 10,ooo actually rule our country. noreena hertz, peter edelman, michael moran & samuel bowles – among others – candidly point this out n make valuable suggestions in their writings & teachings.

  • Lee Zaslofsky

    I’m 68 and I share the point of view expressed in the article, except I’m more radically opposed to capitalism than Bill Moyers & Co. I have as much right as anyone to participate in political life, including seeking public office if I wish. Bernie Sanders is no spring chicken, but he is a good Senator, active and effective and honest. Ageism of any kind is wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-B-Rogers/684616532 Jonathan B. Rogers

    According to the CSM (http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2012/1025/Who-are-the-10-richest-members-of-Congress/Sen.-Dianne-Feinstein-D-Calif.), of the 10 most wealthy members of congress, 8 of them are Democrats. If they really believed in the gospel they tout, I think they should set an example. There is nothing stopping them from giving their wealth to the poor, absolutely nothing. I am SO DONE with listening to the hypocritical Left. If their gospel is the right gospel, then please, empty those pockets. There is plenty of evidence to show that greed and envy is innate in humans, and it is NOT relegated to people who adhere to capitalism.

  • Tom

    I was pleased to see you write that you would be devoting 2013 to issues of poverty and income disparity. Then I went to your site and discovered zero articles about these topics. In fact, almost everything on the site appeared to be recycled daily news items of scant import. why?

  • Phoenix Risen

    Suzann, absolutely perfectly stated! It is so true! It started 32 years ago with Reagan and has gotten nothing but worse ever since! Wake up people!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cassy.burleson Cassy Burleson

    Yes. How can we bring this issue to the front burner?

  • Balanced Budget Amendment

    Balanced Budget Amendment Now!! Every call in comment to shows like Moyers & Company, Cspan and others == Americans should demand a Balanced Budget Amendment. No millionaires should be allowed to serve as a Senator or Congressman. The Executive Office should be required to ensure and enforce balanced budgets from every department. The Executive Office should be required to enforce a balanced budget requirement. The issue is really not just the deficit but that Americans are not demanding a balanced budget law requirements, banning of lobbyists, etc.