Monday, August 8, 2016

Which is better - slavery or poverty?

Between 1525 and 1866, the era of the New World slave trade, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. Only 10.7 million survived the passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America.

During the time slavery was legal in the United States, perhaps 100,000 slaves escaped to freedom.  If you found yourself in slavery, your likelihood of an exit other than death was less than 1%.

If you find yourself below the poverty line today, you'll have perhaps a 50% chance of finding a way up and out. That's such an improvement.  Of course.  But ...

Recent studies have shown the United States to be less mobile than in decades past and less mobile today than other OECD countries. Around 40% of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes are stuck there for the rest of their lives. Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, rich folks tend to stay at the top and regular folks stay at the bottom, as do their children according to research by the Economic Mobility Project.

The economic mobility of African-Americans compared to that of whites is revealing. Half of blacks born in the bottom income quintile remain there as adults, while only a third of whites do.  Research has also found that the children of black middle-class families are more likely to fall out of the middle class.

Besides overt racial discrimination, explanations include the better access of wealthy families to superior schools and prep schools.  Better credentials mean better jobs and better pay. For the non-wealthy, wages have been stagnant for four decades despite improved productivity. College costs have increased 800% in that same time frame.  The sheer size of the income gap makes it harder to climb the proverbial income ladder as the rungs are progressively farther apart.

So to the question of which is better between slavery and poverty, the answer is another question ... are those few steps toward equality and justice enough?

If we're the wealthiest and most successful country in the world, why do 20%+ of our children live in poverty and food insecurity today?  Those born into poverty in America, they're likely to be trapped there and their children as well.  It's not like that elsewhere in the developed world.

The bottom 90% made more money 30 years ago.  In today's dollars, the bottom 90 percent of U.S. earners averaged $33,526 in 1979 and $30,438 in 2012.  The top 10 percent averaged $144,418 in 1979 and $254,449 in 2012. That's about 76 percent growth.  PolitiFact Jan 13, 2015

So, have we adequately addressed inequality?  Do we understand the one-way flow of wealth from our extraordinary workforce exclusively to the elite?  Or have we missed the goal for 90% of our citizenry.

The federal minimum wage was enacted to eliminate “labor conditions detrimental to the
maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and
general well-being of workers.”  Despite these intentions, the federal minimum
wage has failed to keep up with the rising cost of  living, and has instead
become a wage mechanism that keeps working people in poverty.
Now after years of public protest and exploding welfare
costs, some employers are beginning to change
the way they treat employees.  Just a few.

Does either political party offer a reasonable explanation and plan of action?  Granted, neither party perhaps actually planned to abuse the citizenry.  Both, however, are culpable for the impediments faced by the non-elite, and especially for those at the bottom of the economic ladder who neither chose nor deserve what they've endured.

True or false?
If it's true, what must I do differently?