“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” ~ Plutarch
Following is my personal state of the union post. You didn’t hear about most of these things last night because, well, that just wouldn’t play well in Peoria. Keep in mind that I’m only touching on just a few of our country’s ails tonight. I mean, very little of what I have included would be considered applause-worthy; I’ll leave that to the politicians. Lest you think that I am berating the President (I’m not, although I’m still pretty pissed over the acquiescence over the tax-cut extension), I would prefer to think of this SoU post as more of a reality check, bearing in mind that the foundations for the current morass in which this country finds itself were laid well before Obama, three decades or so ago, to be more precise.
Instead of my usual ranting and raving, I am simply going to supply some statistics and facts regarding the brutal realities of life in this country for a large part of the citizenry. Links are provided for my sources.
According to an article in USNews.com based on a Legatum Institute “prosperity index,” the United States is fairing poorly among advanced nations in several categories. Here are just a few:
Poverty. The U.S. poverty rate, about 17 percent, is third worst among the advanced nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In that sample, only Turkey and Mexico are worse.
- Education. American 15-year-olds score below the average for advanced nations on math and science literacy. But don’t worry, our nation’s future leaders are still ahead of their peers in Mexico, Turkey, Greece, and a few other places.
- Competitiveness. In the latest global competitiveness report from the World Economic Forum, the United States fell from No. 1 to No. 2. Sure, let’s console ourselves that the No. 1 country, Switzerland, is a tiny outlier nation and that getting bumped from the top spot doesn’t really mean anything. Add an asterisk, and we’re still No. 1.
- Prosperity. The most prosperous nations, according to the Legatum report, are Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. These fairly homogenous European countries are the teachers’ pets of global rankings, often appearing near the top because of right-sized economies and a relatively small underclass. For a huge economy like America’s, a No. 9 ranking is still respectable. And part of the drop from last year’s No. 4 spot is a change in methodology that puts more emphasis on the health and safety of citizens. Still, in the index’s subrankings, the United States isn’t even in the top 10 for economic fundamentals, safety and security, or governance. We should do better.
- Health. In the Legatum study, the United States ranks 27th for the health of its citizens. Life expectancy in America is below the average for 30 advanced countries measured by the OECD, and the obesity rate in America is the worst among those 30 countries, by far. And, of course, we spend far more on healthcare per person than anybody else—but get no bang for the extra buck.
“When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did. Today, it’s nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money his or her boss makes in one day.” ~ Senator Jim Webb
Nationally, the unemployment rate for people ages 16 to 24 climbed to 19.1 percent in July, up from 10.8 percent in July 2007.
According to a December 2010 article in USA Today, the unemployment rate for college graduates is at its highest since 1970:
“The jobless rate for Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree rose to 5.1%, the highest since 1970 when records were first kept, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. October’s 4.7% rate was up from 4.4% in September. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate last month rose to 9.8% from 9.6%.”
And according to an article in The New York Times, college graduates with bachelor’s degrees are still facing lower starting salaries, that’s if they can find jobs at all. Andrew Sum, an economics professor at Northeastern University, used federal labor statistics to assess the job market for college grads. Sum concludes that “many college graduates are finding jobs that do not require bachelor’s degrees, like retail clerk, office assistant or barista, he said. Using federal labor statistics, he has found that only 51 percent of college graduates under age 25 were working in jobs that require college educations, down from 59 percent in 2000.”
“From a spiritual point of view, it cannot be true that the work of the CEOs of some companies is worth a thousand times that of some other of their employees, just as it cannot be true that because you can get people to work full time for minimum wage they are justly compensated.” ~ Gregory F. A. Pierce
A September 2010 article in The Huffington Post reports on a 2010 report by the Institute for Policy Studies on CEO pay, “Executive Excess 2010: CEO Pay and the Great Recession”:
“The CEOs who laid off the most employees during the recession are also the CEOs who took home the biggest pay checks . . . The study (PDF) also found that 36 of the 50 layoff leaders “announced their mass layoffs at a time of positive earnings reports,” suggesting a trend of “squeezing workers to boost profits and maintain high CEO pay.”
- The $598 million combined compensation of the top 50 CEOs in our layoff leader survey could cover the cost of average unemployment benefits to 37,759 workers for an entire year— or provide nearly a month of insurance for each of the 531,363 workers their companies laid off.
- Golden Parachuter: Fred Hassan of Schering-Plough, by far the highest-paid layoff leader, last year pocketed nearly $50 million. Hassan received a $33 million getaway gift when his firm merged with Merck, while 16,000 workers were receiving pink slips. Hassan’s 2009 pay could have covered the average cost of these workers’ jobless benefits for more than 10 weeks.
- Michael Duke, CEO of Walmart ranked #7 with a total compensation of $19,234,269 in 2009 versus 13,350 layoffs from November 2008 to April 2010.
“I think it is a national crisis to have the income disparity we have in this country. It is wider than in any other industrialized nation in the world. There must be a national policy to address the widening gap between wages of workers and the enormous incomes of the wealthy. I think the greedy corporate owners have to be confronted with the fact that they are ignoring their most powerful resource—their workers.” ~ John Sweeney
I found the following tidbit (from above-referenced study) very informative as regards what other countries are proposing for their own CEOs:
In Israel, the Labor Party’s Shelly Yachimovich and Likud’s Haim Katz have introduced legislation in the Knesset that would cap Israeli executive pay at 50 times the pay of a company’s lowest paid workers. Sharan Burrow, the new general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, the world’s most important trade union body, has proposed, as president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, a cap that would limit executive salaries to 10 times average worker pay. She also called for a special tax on any firms with executives taking home over $1 million in total compensation
“What we have here is a form of looting . . . The rich don’t need the money and are a lot less likely to spend it—they will primarily increase their savings. Remember that wealthier families have done extremely well in the US in the past twenty years, whereas poorer ones have done quite badly. So the redistributive effects of this administration’s tax policy are going in the exactly wrong direction . . . I think this is the worst government the US has ever had.”~ George A. Akerlof, economist, on 2003 Bush Tax Cuts
According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Around 27 million workers—roughly one out of every six U.S. workers—are either unemployed or underemployed. Importantly, this is a very conservative measure of the total number of underemployed because it does not include workers who have had to take a job that is below their skill or experience level.”
Facts about Poverty in America:
- One out of every six Americans is now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program
- Forty-five million Americans were living in poverty in 2009
The U.S. poverty rate is now the third worst among the developed nations tracked by the OECD
Nearly 10 million Americans now receive unemployment insurance, which is almost four times as many as in 2007
One out of every seven mortgages in the United States was either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010
And that, as they say, is that. For now, at least.
More later. Peace.