Why has Occupy Wall Street grown from a gathering of protesters in tents in Zucotti Park to a nation-wide revolution? Why are millions of Americans in the streets mirroring the civil rights protests of the sixties? Why does the majority of the country- the ninety –nine per centers- feel frustrated, angry, and resentful and why do most polls support them?
The answer is because of the overwhelming sense of unfairness at an economic system that has been rigged for the last three decades and new data just released supports that. A new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study based on IRS and Census stats showed how much the gap has widened between the top 1% of the population and the rest of the country. The data shows that the highest-paid 1% of Americans saw their average inflation-adjusted household income grow by 275% over the 28-year period from Reagan onward. As for middle class earners, their wages flat-lined with incomes only growing 40%. Low-income Americans suffered the most, seeing a very slight increase of 18% between 1979 and 2007.
In addition, a poll taken by New York Times/CBS shows that 66% of people said money should be more evenly distributed in America, while just 26% said the current income distribution is fair. Seven out of ten Americans believe the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the wealthy, according to another poll.
Meanwhile the president and the Congressional Democrats seem to be the only ones in Washington focused on the most important issue of the day – putting people back to work. The president crafted a smaller package of targeted jobs measures to build on the success of the first stimulus.The same first stimulus that the right-wing media outlets and the GOP falsely blasted as a failure despite the facts are that it created a few million jobs and shaved a few percentage points off the unemployment rate and most importantly, kept a bad situation from getting a lot worse. The CBO reported that at its height, the Recovery Act created (taking the midrange of their estimates) around 2.5 million jobs, and shaved around 1.5 points off of the unemployment rate. Economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi found that “the effects of the fiscal stimulus alone appear very substantial, raising 2010 real GDP by about 3.4%, holding the unemployment rate about 1.5 percentage points lower, and adding almost 2.7 million jobs to U.S. payrolls.
Now polls show overwhelming support for pieces of the president’s current $447 billion American Jobs Act package, which includes expanded tax cuts for workers and employers, and spending for infrastructure projects, state aid to keep teachers and emergency responders at work, and the new Project Rebuild that will put people back to work rehabilitating homes, business, and communities. But Republicans oppose provisions in the plan that would offset the costs with higher taxes on the wealthy. So again, we are faced with a GOP that is willing to sacrifice the working man to protect the wealthiest in America that have benefitted from thirty years of reverse Robin Hood economics.
The GOP’s plan for job growth? Widen the wealth gap even more by calling for more tax cuts to the top-bracket, deregulate, and more Budget cuts. Their new tax flavor of the month is the regressive fair-tax plan in one form or another that significantly reduces the income tax rate for the top earners and raises everyone else’s. They want to combine that with getting rid of “burdensome regulations” so that they can re-open the Wall Street casinos. Finally, they want to focus on “cutting the deficit” when the focus should be on putting millions of Americans back to work (a deficit by the way that has more to do with fiscal policy of the last administration including lowering tax rates year after year).
While the President wants to jolt the economy by providing funding for infrastructure jobs, and hiring or preventing the layoff of some 300,000 teachers and first responders, the GOP is focused on more budgets cut so that state and local governments are forced to lay off more teachers and first responders. Most economists will tell you that budget cuts during a weak economy is the wrong way to go – it means revenues go down and expenditures go up to pay for unemployment, food stamps, etc. resulting in increased deficits. Debt can be repaid as the economy strengthens when people are back to work, spend money, and tax revenues go up.
The republicans are losing the jobs battle badly. They have it backwards- jobs should be the first priority. This could be why a Quinnipiac University poll shows that President Obama leads all comers. He’s up 47%-39% against former pizza company executive Herman Cain, now the preferred candidate of Republican voters in Ohio. He leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 45% to 41%. And he’s 11 percentage points ahead of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.