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Under Bush, the Poor Get Poorer
September 26, 2003
By Jackson Thoreau

I admit I used to watch Frazier and sometimes even enjoy it, although I found most characters, except Frazier's dad, a bit pompous for my tastes. But after Kelsey Grammer's recent comments on Fox's Hannity & Colmes, those days are over.

Grammer, a Republican who has contributed to the likes of Arnold "The Groper" Schwarzenegger, said he would like to run for political office some day, such as the U.S. Senate. It always amazes me that these Hollywood actors think that a career of reading lines, kissing butts, and pretending they're someone they're not qualifies them for public office. Come to think of it, maybe it does these days.

Anyways, it wasn't so much Grammer's desire to join a growing group of Republican actor-politicians that got me. It was this comment: "I would like to rid the country of the idea that it's the rich against the poor. It never has been."

What country - or planet - has Grammer been living on? With that comment, he shows himself to be another ill-informed, stick-your-head-in-the-sand Republican who doesn't know much about the history of the United States, how it is set up, and how it operates. For a primer, read Howard Zinn's excellent A People's History of the United States. Or if you don't like progressive writers, read The Politics of Rich and Poor, a great book by conservative Kevin Phillips (see, I do read and recommend works by a few conservatives).

If you just want to read a shorter report, try the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' recent news release showing how the gap between the rich and poor in this country is now wider than it was in 1929 - right before the Great Depression.

Then, see if you think Grammer is still right. For further proof that wealthy Americans are getting richer while the poor multiply, watch for a report by the Census Bureau on Sept. 26 that will show the poverty rate and income gap rising. A preliminary survey by the Republican-led federal bureau reported earlier this month that some 1.4 million more Americans fell into poverty last year. About 12.4 percent of all Americans - almost 35 million people - live under the federal poverty rate, which was up from 11.7 percent in 2001.

Under President Clinton, the U.S. poverty rate dropped from 15.1 percent in 1993 to 11.3 percent in 2000, close to the record low of 11.1 set in 1973. In the initial year of the Bush regime, the poverty rate climbed for the first time in eight years. With tax cuts for the wealthy and cruel budget cuts for social safety net programs, some believe the poverty rate for 2002 is really closer to the Bush I regime figure, that the Republicans are playing with figures and that the bureau's estimates fall far short of reality.

Some 12.2 million children - or 17 percent - lived in poverty last year. Many people in the U.S. love to beat their chests and call their country the best in the world, but the fact is that the child poverty rate in their nation is among the highest of major industrialized countries. I don't know about you, but that's not a fact of which this American is proud.

Jay Shaft, editor of the Coalition For Free Thought In Media, wrote in an excellent article earlier this year that homelessness and poverty in the U.S. has grown by more than 35 percent since the end of 2000. Cities like Phoenix, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago reported increases of around 50 percent between January 2001 and July 2003. Homeless shelters are overcrowded; in 2002, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that 30 percent of all requests for shelter went unmet.

Those trends particularly increased in the first six months of 2003, as Bush's cruel budget cuts and tax increases for the poor took greater effect, Shaft wrote. Some 60 percent of new homeless cases targeted single mothers with children in 2003.

The lack of affordable housing leads the list of causes, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. The Ford administration requested more than 400,000 Section 8 vouchers to help poor families obtain housing in 1976. The Bush regime's 2003 budget request was for 34,000, despite a growth in poverty and homelessness since the 1970s.

Other causes are the continued onslaught of corporate layoffs, which have slowed only slightly this year over the torrid pace of 2001 and 2002, and the decline in value of the minimum wage, which has fallen by 25 percent since 1975. Workers with families who make the minimum wage just cannot afford the rising costs of housing, food, medical care and other necessities. More families seek governmental assistance that is dwindling.

At the same time, well-paying jobs are declining in favor of service jobs that often pay no health insurance and other benefits. Some 46 percent of the jobs with the most growth since 1994 paid less than $16,000 a year, hardly a livable wage, according to the homeless coalition.

For another look at our economic trends, see Forbes magazine's annual list of the fastest-growing companies released this month. The top spot is by a firm that produces airport security devices. The list is dominated by oil and gas companies, pharmaceutical firms, and other businesses friendly to Bush. More companies are outsourcing jobs to contractors who get no benefits. The number of Americans without health insurance continues to grow, and what is Bush and other Republican leaders doing about that? Nothing. Not a damn thing.

Another indication of Bush's inability to help the poor is that the number of Americans suffering from hunger rose from 8.5 million in 2000 to 9 million in 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Soup kitchens and similar places report huge increases in needs.

Following years of decline, participation in the federal food stamp program substantially rose in 2001 and 2002. In December 2002, some 20.5 million people received food stamps, an increase of 3.6 million people from July 2000.

To make things worse for the homeless, a growing number of cities are criminalizing their very existence. Almost 70 percent of cities surveyed by the National Coalition for the Homeless passed at least one new law targeting homeless people since January 2002, according to an August 2003 coalition report.

"Instead of the compassionate responses that communities have used to save lives in the past two decades, the common response to homelessness [these days] is to criminalize the victims through laws and ordinances that make illegal life-sustaining activities that people experiencing homelessness are forced to do in public," said Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless and a former homeless victim himself.

The coalition found the top five meanest cities to the homeless were Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. California and Florida were the meanest states. The top 20 list of cities included some surprises, such as those with progressive images like Austin, Tx., Boulder, Colo., and Santa Cruz, Calif. Dallas was not on that list, although I think it should have been since the city has implemented draconian measures against the homeless like bulldozing their makeshift homes.

In its 2003 report on cities' cruel crackdowns on the homeless, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty cited these five cities or counties as being particularly harsh:

• Albuquerque, N.M., where police arrested and beat homeless teens standing in a parking lot in the morning waiting for a program for homeless teens to open. In addition, police regularly confiscated homeless persons' property.

• New Orleans, La., where homeless persons were arrested for standing on public sidewalks and waiting for paychecks.

• New York City, where homeless people were forced by police to move from church steps even though a court order in the case, 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church v. City of New York, gave them that right.

• Orlando, Fla., where new laws prohibited sitting or lying on sidewalks downtown, but police reportedly allowed almost everyone else but the homeless to do so.

• Palm Beach County, Fla., ground zero for Republicans stealing the 2000 presidential election, where a church housing the homeless was fined more than $27,000 for alleged zoning violations even after the church agreed to stop housing people in exchange for elimination of the fine.

"Punishing poverty is no way to end homelessness," said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. "The real solution is to ensure decent, affordable housing with good-paying jobs for all." That is a pipe dream while Bush is in office.

The center also commended Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Miami, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., for implementing more positive solutions, such as opening centers that provide comprehensive services to the homeless. While some cities are taking positive steps, the Bush administration sure is not. Bush's fiscal year 2004 budget proposed zero new resources to meet the needs of the growing homeless population.

If the U.S. spent just $18 billion - which is what America spends in three months to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan - the country could wipe out hunger and homelessness completely for ten years, Shaft wrote. If the US took just 25 percent of its annual military budget, which is expected to top $450 billion for fiscal year 2004, the largest by far (Russia is a distant second at $60 billion, according to the non-partisan Center for Defense Information), that would go a long way towards wiping out hunger and homelessness around the world. "Just 10 percent of our military budget spent yearly on America could give every high school graduate a college education for four years," Shaft wrote.

"It seems like it is not a priority to protect our children from starvation and living on the streets," Shaft wrote. "Our education system is crumbling and the school breakfast and lunch programs are being slashed mercilessly... If this crisis continues, we are in danger of actually having worse hunger and homelessness than some third world countries. The military expansion and occupation must stop so that we can salvage our future before it is too late to stop the landslide of poor and starving."

These harsh trends of the poor multiplying and getting poorer, while the rich get richer, are exactly what many of us knew would happen under Bush-Cheney. It's happening faster than many predicted.

Did you see Fox's "conversation" between Republican butt-kisser Brit Hume and Bush on Sept. 22? That was about as much a "conversation" as any of Bush's staged press conferences, as Bush continually looked off-camera for the cue cards. I thought I was watching actors playing Bush and Hume in a Saturday Night Live skit.

Anyways, Bush again blamed a "recession I inherited" from Clinton and the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001, for trends like the number of Americans living in poverty rising to about 35 million in 2002, some 3.5 million more than the level in 2000. Under Clinton, the poor dropped by about 7 million people, a better record than any other president since LBJ saw the ranks of the impoverished decline by some 12 million people.

Under Bush I, the poor increased by 6 million, the most of any modern-day president, but Bush II should overtake his father in 2004. Under Carter, the impoverished also increased, while the ranks went down under Nixon and Ford and stayed about the same under Reagan.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, you will hear a lot of Republicans blame Clinton and Democrats for the poor economy and try to divert your attention with phony economic growth numbers. But ask people around you: Are you better off now than you were in 2000? Do you feel more like making major purchases, even if interest rates are kept artificially low to mask economic problems and help Republicans stay in office? Here's one trend that brings our economic malaise under Bush home to me: 67 percent of the men in my 1995 wedding party have been laid off in the last two years and are earning substantially less than they made in 2000.

There are a lot of reasons, but I blame Bush-Cheney for much of that trend. The buck stops there. Bush and Republicans always talk the talk about taking responsibility. They should try walking the walk. Take some responsibility for this. Stop blaming Clinton, who has been out of office for almost three years. Remember Bush's tax cuts for the super wealthy and funding cuts for programs that help poor and middle-income people? Citizens for Tax Justice says the plan worked out in 2003 will give more than half of the cuts to the wealthiest 5 percent, while the poorest 60 percent will only get 8 percent.

The wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers in the U.S., who make at least $373,000, already own about 34 percent of the wealth - more than the bottom 90 percent! - according to the non-partisan U.S. Federal Reserve Board. Organizations like the Cato Institute and Citizens for Tax Justice put the top 1 percent's wealth percentage higher, at closer to 40 percent. No other industrial country comes close to matching this imbalance between the very rich and the rest of us. Even in class-conscious England, with its imperial Queen and all, the wealthiest 1 percent own closer to 20 percent.

Furthermore, these very wealthy American families only pay about 20 percent of the taxes, not 34 to 40 percent. Their actual rate is 39 percent, but they get that drastically reduced through tax credits and creative, Enron-like, accounting schemes.

In 2001, this 1 percent received an average tax cut from the Bush administration of $53,123; meanwhile, 60 percent of American families only got a cut of $347, on average, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. The poorest 20 percent of American families received virtually nothing. This is not proportionate, and it's not "liberty and justice for all," in my book.

You still think that it "never has been" about the rich against the poor in this country, Kelsey? How do you think some people get so rich and many more stay poor? I challenge anyone to name one thing Bush has done to help a person climb out of poverty. All he has done is help his rich-buddy campaign contributors get filthy, bloody richer.

Bush doesn't really care about poor people, or even middle-income people, except to gain their votes. When are more people going to learn that? And he's worse than most Republicans who suck up to the wealthy because Bush tries to play up his Christian image more than most. Again, unlike Christ, who Bush is supposed to try to follow, Bush does nothing to help the poor.

He's just a big, stinking hypocrite, and I really get mad every time I see him posing with some poor kid in a Big Brothers center - whose funding he cuts - as a cynical attempt to gain some more votes. Bush just makes fools of people. And it's maddening as hell that more people don't see it, or if they do, don't speak out against it.

As the 2004 elections approach, we have to hammer people with these wealth trends. Under Bush, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, the poverty rate is rising, and household income is falling for all but the wealthiest Americans. Keep repeating that to whomever you come across.


Jackson Thoreau is an American writer and co-author of We Will Not Get Over It: Restoring a Legitimate White House. The updated, 120,000-word electronic book can be downloaded from his website. (Citizens for Legitimate Government has the earlier version.) He can be contacted at jacksonthor@yahoo.com.

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