WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING - America's Middle Class Gone

(06/20/2008)

OPINION AND COMMENT by Bob Weaver

Hold on to your vision of the Great American Experiment.

Considering the depressing fact that gasoline, food and retail prices are skyrocketing and putting a major crimp on family budgets, it might be time to pause and assess what has been happening to America, with jobs being globalized and wages stagnant.

The first article published on the Hur Herald when it went on-line ten years ago was "The Widening Gap Between the Rich and the Poor," saying "Pre-1970's, according to some statistics, the richest 10% of American's owned 50% of the wealth. Today the richest 10% of Americans own 70%...The gap has now been escalated by the computer age and the wild expansion of the stock market."

"Despite enormous natural resources, the hill cultures of Appalachia cling to different values, remain poor and are still under-educated and left behind," we wrote.

"Hand-outs or welfare programs under the Great Society banner of the l960's were dismal failures, unable to provide the infrastructure for economic development and educational opportunity, unable to actual jobs or a viable economy."

"The intensity of this problem is rapidly increasing and unless there is divine intervention or a planned strategy to develop our under-privileged areas, the so-called American Middle Class is doomed."

Ten years ago, in our article, we concluded "We are on a collision course of despair.

Here in 2008, that gap is ever widening.

In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands.

As of 2001, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 33.4% of all privately held wealth, according to economist Edward N. Wolff at New York University (2004).

The next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 51%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 84%.

That left only 16% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers).

In 2003 the Bush administration reduced the U.S. tax rate for capital gains and corporate stock dividends dramatically.

Those reductions, were to stimulate the economy, the 'trickle-down' effect.

The top tax rate for capital gains and dividends dropped to 15 percent.

A new report from Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) shows that these tax cuts heavily favor the wealthiest Americans and West Virginians.

The top one percent of taxpayers in West Virginia making an average income of $667,800 a year will gain $9,168 in 2009 from the breaks, while the bottom 99 percent making an average income of $63,400 a year will gain only $147.

If you're under those figures, the tax cut just passed you by.

WEST VIRGINIA'S WEALTHIEST DOING GREAT

The income gap that separates West Virginia’s wealthiest families from the rest of the state’s households has widened dramatically over the past two decades, according to a study released this week.

Over the past two decades the incomes of West Virginia's wealthiest families – top 5 percent - grew much faster than middle and low-income families.

From the late 1980s to the mid-2000s, the average income of families in the top five percent is 12 times as large as the poorest 20 percent of families and 4 times more than middle-income ones.

The growth in West Virginia's income inequality between the richest 20 percent of families and the poorest 20 percent is the 12th largest in the nation.

Some information for this article is from the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, a policy research organization that is nonpartisan, nonprofit, and statewide.

West Virginia ranks near the bottom in income of the 50 states.


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