[Marxism] Income Inequality Is Costing the U.S. on Social Issues

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 29 10:31:17 MDT 2015

(Eduardo Porter, who is one of the business section's more socially 
aware reporters, means well in this quite revealing article but fails to 
come to grips with the underlying problem, namely the disappearance of 
well-paying blue-collar jobs. When I was in my twenties, Baltimore was a 
place where many young Blacks with a high-school degree could get a job 
at the Sparrows Point Bethlehem Steel mill that hired 31,000 workers at 
its peak. Steel was no longer profitable and so the plant closed. As a 
sign of the times, some investors are looking to develop the site as a 
technology center. These jobs are not coming back. The American 
bourgeoisie of both major parties is quite content to see massive 
unemployment and the social ills that Porter describes. The one thing 
they can't live with is a growing mass movement that challenges 
inequality. That is why Obama coordinated attacks on the Occupy 
activists and why the big money is on Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. 
These are two people who know how to look after capital's interests.)

NY Times, Apr. 29 2015
Income Inequality Is Costing the U.S. on Social Issues
by Eduardo Porter

Thirty-five years ago, the United States ranked 13th among the 34 
industrialized nations that are today in the Organization for Economic 
Cooperation and Development in terms of life expectancy for newborn 
girls. These days, it ranks 29th.

In 1980, the infant mortality rate in the United States was about the 
same as in Germany. Today, American babies die at almost twice the rate 
of German babies.

“On nearly all indicators of mortality, survival and life expectancy, 
the United States ranks at or near the bottom among high-income 
countries,” says a report on the nation’s health by the National 
Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

What’s most shocking about these statistics is not how unhealthy they 
show Americans to be, compared with citizens of countries that spend 
much less on health care and have much less sophisticated medical 
technology. What is most perplexing is how stunningly fast the United 
States has lost ground.

The blame for the precipitous fall does not rest primarily on the 
nation’s doctors and hospitals.

The United States has the highest teenage birthrate in the developed 
world — about seven times the rate in France, according to the O.E.C.D. 
More than one out of every four children lives with one parent, the 
largest percentage by far among industrialized nations. And more than a 
fifth live in poverty, sixth from the bottom among O.E.C.D. nations.

Among adults, seven out of every 1,000 are in prison, more than five 
times the rate of incarceration in most other rich democracies and more 
than three times the rate for the United States four decades ago.

The point is: The United States doesn’t have a narrow health care 
problem. We’ve simply handed our troubles to the medical industry to 
fix. In many ways, the American health care system is the most advanced 
in the world. But whiz-bang medical technology just cannot fix what ails us.

As economists from the University of Chicago, M.I.T. and the University 
of Southern California put it in a recent research paper, much of 
America’s infant mortality deficit is driven by “excess inequality.”


American babies born to white, college-educated, married women survive 
as often as those born to advantaged women in Europe. It’s the babies 
born to nonwhite, nonmarried, nonprosperous women who die so young.

Three or four decades ago, the United States was the most prosperous 
country on earth. It had the mightiest military and the most advanced 
technologies known to humanity. Today, it’s still the richest, strongest 
and most inventive. But when it comes to the health, well-being and 
shared prosperity of its people, the United States has fallen far behind.

Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four 
decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong 
turn along the way.

How did we get here? How do we exit?

As the presidential campaign draws the political debate to our national 
priorities, these questions must take center stage. As candidates argue 
over the budget deficit and the national debt, debate what to do about 
income inequality, address the problem of mass incarceration or refight 
the battles over the Affordable Care Act and the minimum wage, they 
should be forced to address how their policy wish list adds up to an answer.

Looking at how the United States compares with other nations is 
illuminating. As I noted in last week’s column, over the last four 
decades or so, the labor market lost much of its power to deliver income 
gains to working families in many developed nations.

But blaming globalization and technological progress for the stagnation 
of the middle class and the precipitous decline in our collective health 
is too easy. Jobs were lost and wages got stuck in many developed countries.

What set the United States apart — what made the damage inflicted upon 
American society so intense — was the nature of its response. Government 
support for Americans in the bottom half turned out to be too meager to 
hold society together.

The conservative narrative of America’s social downfall, articulated by 
the likes of Charles Murray from the American Enterprise Institute, 
posits that a large welfare state, built from the time of the New Deal 
in the 1930s through the era of the Great Society in the 1960s, sapped 
Americans’ industriousness and undermined their moral fiber.

A more compelling explanation is that when globalization struck at the 
jobs on which 20th-century America had built its middle class, the 
United States discovered that it did not, in fact, have much of a 
welfare state to speak of. The threadbare safety net tore under the strain.

Call it a failure of solidarity. American institutions, built from 
hostility toward collective solutions, couldn’t hold society together 
when the economic underpinning of full employment at a decent wage gave in.

The question is, Is there a solution to fit these ideological 
preferences? The standard prescriptions, typically shared by liberals 
and conservatives, start with education, building the skills needed to 
harness the opportunities of a high-tech, fast-changing labor market 
that has little use for those who end their education after high school.

Ensuring everybody has a college degree might not stanch the flow of 
riches to the very pinnacle of society. But it could deliver a powerful 
boost to the incomes and the well-being of struggling families in the 
bottom half.

And yet the prescription — embedded in the social reality that is 
contemporary America — falls short. In contemporary America, education 
is widening inequity, not closing it. College enrollment rates have 
stagnated for lower-income Americans. Sean Reardon from Stanford 
University notes that the achievement gap between rich and poor children 
seems to have been steadily expanding for the last 50 years.

On the left, there are calls to build the kind of generous social 
insurance programs, which despite growing budget constraints remain 
largely intact among many European social democracies. Senator Elizabeth 
Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, for example, is calling for an 
expansion of Social Security, paid for by lifting the cap on payroll 
taxes so the rich pay the same share of their income to support the 
system as everybody else.

That may be desirable, though at the moment, our greatest problems are 
not about the elderly. And at least for the foreseeable future, it 
remains a political nonstarter in a nation congenitally mistrustful of 
government. Just in time to kick off the presidential campaign, 
Republicans in the House and Senate were working on a budget that would 
gut Obamacare — most likely increasing the pool of the nation’s 
uninsured — and slash funding for programs for Americans of low and 
moderate income.

Yet despite the grim prognosis, there is hope. The challenge America 
faces is not simply a matter of equity. The bloated incarceration rates 
and rock-bottom life expectancy, the unraveling families and the 
stagnant college graduation rates amount to an existential threat to the 
nation’s future.

That is, perhaps, the best reason for hope. The silver lining in these 
dismal, if abstract, statistics, is that they portend such a 
dysfunctional future that our broken political system might finally be 
forced to come together to prevent it.

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