Americans are Poor
Americans are perhaps the most deluded people in the world. Facts are habitually ignored in favor of wishful thinking. Fantasies are created by white supremacy and the ruling classes in order to minimize the numbers of people willing to point out that the emperor has no clothes. One of the most pernicious false beliefs is the statement “America is a rich country.”
It is true that the United States Treasury has trillions of dollars. It is true that there are many wealthy people in this country. But Americans should accept the indisputable fact that as individuals, they are poor. Recent data released by the Social Security Administration revealed that 51 percent of all American workers earn less than $30,000-per-year.
Even in those regions with a low cost of living, a single adult is struggling to live on only $30,000-per-year. It is a poverty level income and if half of all workers fall below it they should be called poor. This nation has more poor children than any other country in the group that is referred to as “developed.” According to UNICEF the overall level of child well being in the United States ranks near the bottom alongside Lithuania, Latvia and Romania. Most Americans do not think of themselves as comparable in any way to these nations. Facing this inconvenient truth is quite painful.
People living in poverty are thought of as lazy or stupid or the victims of their own bad decision-making. It is easy for these stereotypes to persist because of a lack of class-consciousness and racism. Poverty is also synonymous with Blackness. In fact, that old stereotype has proven to be true in the Obama era. Black people are now the poorest group in the country. There are more Black children in poverty than white children, an historic and awful turn of events.
Worship of the “middle class” ideal is a huge obstacle to class consciousness and political action. This meaningless term is embraced as if it actually prevents people from living in poverty. If ten people are asked to define the meaning of middle class, it is possible to get ten different definitions. It all boils down to separating oneself from the dreaded and lambasted poor instead of thinking of oneself as a worker. The result of these mental gymnastics is that millions of the poor never dare to speak up for themselves. Doing so would shatter the fantasy world where they reside.
Instead of the useless words middle class, Americans ought to speak of and fight for a living wage. Of course none of their politicians are really interested in providing one. The Republicans are consistently honest in opposing an increase of the minimum wage. The Democrats make believe that they want to raise it but only discuss doing so when they don’t control Congress and are unable to act. When they have the opportunity, as they did in 2009 and 2010, neither the Democratic president Barack Obama nor the Democratically-controlled House or Senate introduced minimum wage legislation. Instead, they wait to be out of power and then pretend that they would fight for working people. Their words are a sham meant to keep Democrats from thinking independently and ridding themselves once and for all of their useless political party.
The presidential election season should be an opportunity to make crystal clear demands on the candidates. Bernie Sanders says he wants Americans to live like the Scandinavians who rank at the top of personal well being in the world. He has had a chance to act on that belief as a member of the United States Senate but he has so far refrained from doing so. He did introduce legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15-per-hour, but not until July of this year. He had to first declare himself a presidential candidate and needed to look like the genuine article. Yet even this is sleight of hand. Under the Sanders plan the increase would be incremental and not reach $15 until 2020. Sanders acts like other Democrats and acquiesces without complaint when a Democrat is in the White House but then pretends to fight for workers in an election year.
The Democrats warn against voting for a third, fourth or fifth party because doing so makes one a spoiler who helps the Republicans. But why is it bad to spoil the chances of a party that lies to its constituents year after year? The Democrats’ treachery creates a vicious cycle of apathy. The people who need the most help ignore the political process altogether because they gain nothing from it. Of course, if they don’t participate then it is business as usual in Washington.
The people who can only find low wage work, if they find it at all, need to be activated. But their activism must take an entirely new direction. Pushing them into the arms of the party that is consistently unfaithful isn’t the answer. In 2016 the word spoiler should be a badge of honor. Spoilers shouldn’t be ashamed and neither should poor people.
—Black Agenda Report, November 3, 2015