That choice is nearer than one might think. The difference between America’s poor and our ultra-rich has increased dangerously in the recent past. To make the problem worse, many of our elected Congressional leaders seem to actually think that all of us want them to cater to the Richie Rich’s of the country and that we are content with the leftovers.
Some in Congress think it’s more important to continue tax cuts for a few ultra-rich than to help the 15.1 million jobless Americans. Neither affects me and I vote to help our most vulnerable.
Why? There are several reasons. The income gap between the richest 0.01% and the bottom 90% has reached a level higher than it was in 1928 just before the Great Depression. In other words, the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer—much, much richer. Congressional legislation since the 1980s dramatically shifted its emphasis toward helping the wealthy and corporations succeed even more, beginning with lowering their taxes rates. From about 1935 to 1982, the top marginal tax rate ranged from around 80% to a high of 95% in the early 1940s. It remained above 80% until 1963 and was in the 90% range for ten years from the early 1950s until about 1963.
The newest argument for discontinuing unemployment extensions is that there’s not a plan to pay for them.
Unemployment isn’t real to any of us until it actually affects us. Employers (not employees) have paid into the system for every penny earned. It’s a “perk” of employment and is insurance that is meant to help you if you lose your job. The average weekly unemployment wages are $293. Normally, unemployment lasts 26 weeks, so the total income would equal $7618 annually, before taxes. Yes, taxes have to be paid on unemployment wages. ($7618 for 26 weeks is just less than poverty level for a family of three.)
Those who haven’t felt its effects and think that unemployment checks make people lazy and causes them to not look for jobs should try living on those wages. Try it while trying to pay bills, fending off depression, applying for jobs knowing there are a minimum of five people applying for every available job in the U.S., and going through endless interviews (if and when one is even granted) to try to land a job. Keep in mind that the median jobless American enters unemployment with less than $250 in net savings. Combine those headaches with the knowledge that average insurance payments for a family are about $1172 monthly—exactly $61 more than four weeks of average unemployment.
Another problem facing the currently unemployed is that entire industries have been crippled, while others are still hiring. Laid off construction workers or those from manufacturing cannot transfer their skills to the fields that have openings, such as health care and education. It’s virtually impossible to adequately upgrade skills in a 26 week period while unemployment lasts, especially when there’s no extra money to do so.
America has to face our unemployment problem head on and make some tough decisions. This is not the time to ignore our most vulnerable citizens, though.