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The “Have-Nots” Sink While The “Haves” Smirk

The “race to the bottom” used to refer to the competition with low-cost foreign labor that threatened to undermine the wages of U.S. workers struggling in the same industries.

Now it refers to the competition between private- and public-sector workers to see who can become poorer faster.

In essence, that’s what the fight in Wisconsin is about. It’s also what last weekend’s Niagara Square rally with 250 union supporters was about.

But who’s going to foot the bill for the standard of living they want to protect? Middle-class taxpayers are tapped out. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made that point, as did Gov. Andrew Cuomo when calling New York “functionally bankrupt.”

In other words, the money is gone.

But as private-sector workers turn on public employees, and non-union workers castigate their unionized brethren, the internecine warfare distracts from a more fundamental question: Where did the money go?

In a nutshell, it went up. Not in smoke, though it could have, as far as the middle class is concerned. Rather, it went to the top of the economic pyramid.

A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities review last year found that the gap between the top 1 percent and those in the middle and at the bottom “more than tripled between 1979 and 2007.” (If the wealthy lost any relative ground during the Great Recession, they’ve more than made up for it during the recovery.)

Similarly, the Economic Policy Institute — in its State of Working America report last month — found that average annual income growth from 2000 to 2007 went entirely to those in the top 10 percent, while “income for the bottom 90 percent actually declined.”

And what of those government workers lavishly compensated with our tax dollars?

A review by the center last week found that, when controlling for education, job tenure and other variables, “public workers are paid 4 to 11 percent less than private-sector workers.” A separate study by the institute found that state and local government workers make $2,001 less on average, even when benefits are included.

Yet the fight rages on among those in the middle of the pyramid.

Meanwhile, in its annual Executive Excess report, the Institute for Policy Studies calculated that CEOs of major firms made 263 times the average compensation of American workers in 2009.

SEIU Local 1199 Vice President Todd Hobler, who was at the Niagara Square rally, says such inequity gets accepted because the media suggest “that the goal of all people is to become rich, and that those who have fortunes deserve it and have earned it.”

But are corporate bosses 263 times smarter than you are? Do they work 263 times harder?

Yet despite the reams of data, the issue of inequity gets little traction in this country. Republicans philosophically don’t believe in greater income equality unless it occurs by accident, while Democrats have no beliefs at all that they’re willing to fight for.

The result is that anyone who mentions the income gap is accused of “class warfare,” which brings to mind a quote by billionaire Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway owns The Buffalo News, that “my class is winning.”

But apparently working-class Americans are OK with that. We’ll dump teachers, close libraries and let parks go to seed because we can’t afford to pay more. Yet we’ll never ask, “Who can?” That’s not what we do.

Washington extended the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent; New York will let its surtax on millionaires expire. Both capitals are responding to working-class voters who apparently don’t want to “redistribute” wealth and are satisfied fighting one another for the scraps.

After all, we’re not Tunisians. We’re not Egyptians.

We’re Americans.

By:  Rod Watson, News Columnist-BuffaloNews.com, March 3, 2011

March 7, 2011 - Posted by | Class Warfare, Income Gap, Middle Class | , , , , , , , , ,

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