Tuesday, September 2, 2008

More Fine News for the Day

Census shows widening wealth gap in U.S.

"The latest census numbers on income and health insurance feel like a family photo album. There we are on a sunny day, fit and happy. The sky was so blue, the weather warm. What a day it was.

"But close the book (or online photo Web site) and a different reality returns. That's the way the pleasing financial portrait should be taken: That was then, and this is now.

"Each August, the Census Bureau releases figures that profile the nation's income categories, including the numbers of Americans without health insurance. It barely needs mentioning that this year these red-hot topics land in the last year of the two-term Bush presidency and in closing months of a presidential campaign.

"The first-blush totals sound good. Those without coverage declined by more than one million, the first such drop since the Bush team took office. The poverty level held steady at 12.5 percent of the country, and the median income actually rose to $50,233, a slight increase of $665 from the previous year. These are crowd-pleasing totals.

"But these figures come with an asterisk. They're from 2007, just before the country began its economic slow-fade. The jobless rate, housing market, oil prices, and banking system have all soured. Layoffs and trimmed benefits such as health coverage have followed. The census computer tracked a financially fatter world.

"These figures call for interpretation and context. The downward track of uninsured may be due to more people seeking out government health care such as Medicare or coverage for children. Also, the total of 45.7 million uninsured is still higher than the 39.8 million without coverage when the Bush administration assumed power.

"The same is true with the poverty figure. Yes, it's good when the needle sticks for two years running at 12.5 percent. But it was at 11.9 percent in the 1990's.

"There are other historical measures to toss into this sea of numbers. Though the economy generally bloomed from 2000 until this year, the adjusted income of most workers didn't budge.
The rich-poor gap also widened with the nation's top one percent now collecting 23 percent of total income, the biggest disparity since 1928, according to the Economic Policy Institute. One side statistic supplied by the IRS: there are now 47,000 Americans worth $20 million or more, an all-time high.

"From top to bottom, these are punishing numbers: a nation of great wealth with yawning economic disparities. At the least, Congress should try again to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which was extended only through March of 2009, after President Bush vetoed enlarging it.

"Both John McCain and Barack Obama were quick to react to the census data, focusing on the economic slowdown that has overtaken the year-old census numbers. McCain offered tax cuts and policy tweaks to allow more people to buy health coverage. Obama has plans for a broader promise of government help with insurance. Voters should listen carefully to see which candidate has ideas that will make a genuine improvement."

This article appeared on page B - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle. And in my e-mail via EIN:

The bold type I added. If you go to Wash Park Prophet's blog: http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com/, you will find more figures, or if you do a basic search. First of all, what I'd like to know is, who these people are, these $20 million-a-year-plus? What proportion are CEOs of big corporations that cut and run when they made bad decisions? Hollywood stars adding their privileged offspring to the American Shores? You know what I'm asking.

Second, what is "median income?" Remember your elementary school math and science classes? The ones in which you learned what "mean," "median" and "mode" are? The median is simply the middle number in a list of numbers. Those numbers might be, for instance, 0, 4, 276, 277, and 300. Two hundred seventy-six here would be the median, and would have far more in common in value with the two numbers listed after it, than those far below. In other words, if the median income in this country is around $50k, that is in no way indicative of a sort of income one might expect anyone he or she meets on the street to make. There are still many, many people who make far less than that, and a few who make far more, and some who make about that much, yes.

Finally, because what am I doing reading and bothering with this kind of stuff when I feel like crap and it's a lousy day already, despite the brightly shining sun outside: I think we have more to worry about than what McCain or Obama will do about these kinds of things. People, don't forget to SERIOUSLY question those who purport to represent you at the local, state and federal levels on your Town or City Councils and in Congress. And vote accordingly.

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