Bush, the Poor Get Poorer
By Jackson Thoreau
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
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
"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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.