The New War on the Poor
The inequality of wealth in America right now is a growing political issue threatening our democracy, but no intelligent person seriously believes the problem is way too much money in the hands of poor people.
Just last week, a major economic study concluded the income gap between the richest 1% and all the rest of us in this country is now larger than it has been since 1928, the year before the stock market crash led to the Great Depression.
Get this. In 2012, the incomes of the top 1% rose nearly 20%, compared with a 1% increase for the remaining 99% of America.
Want another unbelievable number? In a still struggling economy, the richest 10% set an all-time record last year by earning 48.2%, nearly half of all the total income in the United States.
While our very richest got much, much richer, not only did poor folks become even poorer, but the middle class continued to evaporate as more working families sank into poverty.
Politicians like Walker created this new platinum-plated plutocracy with millions in tax giveaways to self-proclaimed job creators who don’t bother to create any jobs and across-the-board percentage tax cuts that throw bulging bags of large-denomination bills to the wealthy and shiny coins at working people.
Dramatically illustrating the problem, Republican legislators took time out last week from declaring their crackdown on poor people to support legislation saving the owners of land for a proposed strip mine in northern Wisconsin nearly $900,000 a year in taxes.
The Bogus Campaign Against Fraud
With Walker failing miserably on his campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin, what’s behind his desire to make it harder for those suffering from his failure to get any public assistance?
It’s a strange editorial campaign by the state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, attacking changes that began under President George W. Bush (and his Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, by the way) in federal public assistance programs.
The newspaper apparently objects to the federal government paying bonuses to states that reduce red tape and speed up the delivery of food and medical care to people who need it.
Actually, that sounds like a pretty good idea. Republicans and their wealthy business supporters are always complaining about all the red tape and burdensome paperwork involved in federal programs.
Well, if multimillion-dollar corporations with teams of lawyers have difficulty, think how much harder it must be for poor folks, often with limited education and desperate needs.
And it turns out Wisconsin has done very well in speeding up approval of assistance for people in need. In 2011, Wisconsin received a $33 million federal bonus for streamlining medical assistance for children, the highest in the nation. Last year, it received the fourth largest amount.
So what’s the problem? Poor families with children quickly receive the medical care and food they desperately need and Wisconsin is awarded tens of millions of additional federal dollars.
You know the problem. Public assistance programs benefit poor people. Republicans don’t like poor people. Poor people just aren’t as honest as rich people. Before receiving any help, poor people need to be investigated within an inch of their lives.
The newspaper even found some disgruntled government workers who said if they improperly denied aid to someone they suspect of fraud and the applicant later turned out to be eligible for assistance, it could affect their job performance evaluations. Well, duh. They improperly denied someone in need.
So did the newspaper find much real evidence of fraud? Well, no. Last year, it said, only about 400 applications for benefits out of 300,000 in Milwaukee County were referred for intensive fraud investigation. The blockbuster revelation: About half were ineligible for assistance.
What that reporting leaves out, of course, is that the other half of those whose eligibility was questioned, in fact, did qualify for assistance. And 200 ineligible applications out of 300,000 is infinitesimal—six hundredths of a percent.
Speeding benefits is necessary to meet the enormous needs since the Great Recession, which Republicans keep at record levels by jamming up government to slow economic recovery under President Barack Obama.
In Wisconsin, where job creation is among the nation’s worst, Walker thinks nothing of handing out $900,000 tax reductions to mining landowners and half million-dollar DNR grants to political cronies, but he vows to make damn sure no desperately poor child ever receives a nickel more than necessary for food or health care.
Income inequality does trouble Republicans, though.
It’s getting harder and harder for them to keep taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich now that the rich already have most of it.