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Common Dreams

The United States of... Class War, Inequality, and Poverty

New survey data shows perilous state of US economy and suffering of a majority underclass

Jon Queally, staff writer

New economic data obtained and analyzed by the Associated Press appears to show that when billionaire financier Warren Buffett says, “There’s class warfare, all right.. and we’re winning," he knows what he's talking about.

According to the report by AP, four out of every five American adults will "struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives" revealing the strained fabric of a national economy which once saw the meteoric rise of the middle class returned to a state where increasing inequality is the norm and class tensions—though often muted for popular discussion—is undermining the prospects for tens of millions.

"It's time that America comes to understand that many of the nation's biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position."

The resulting analysis of the numbers by AP points to an "increasingly globalized U.S. economy"—in which companies search the globe for low wages, minimized regulation, and corporate-friendly tax rates—as the main driver of the "widening gap between rich and poor" and the destruction of the manufacturing base that historians and economists credit for previous and more widely shared prosperity.

Responding to the survey, William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor who specializes in race and poverty, told AP: "It's time that America comes to understand that many of the nation's biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position."

The report shows the economic hardships faced by low-income and middle class workers across age and race demographics and shows that though divisions of social mobility and economic gains shift differently along racial and geographic lines, the overall trend is one inherently built on economic class.


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"Poverty is no longer an issue of 'them', it's an issue of 'us'," said Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who calculated the numbers for AP. "Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need."

Among some of the survey's specific findings:

The risks of poverty [...] have been increasing in recent decades, particularly among people ages 35-55, coinciding with widening income inequality. For instance, people ages 35-45 had a 17 percent risk of encountering poverty during the 1969-1989 time period; that risk increased to 23 percent during the 1989-2009 period. For those ages 45-55, the risk of poverty jumped from 11.8 percent to 17.7 percent.

By race, nonwhites still have a higher risk of being economically insecure, at 90 percent. But compared with the official poverty rate, some of the biggest jumps under the newer measure are among whites, with more than 76 percent enduring periods of joblessness, life on welfare or near-poverty.

By 2030, based on the current trend of widening income inequality, close to 85 percent of all working-age adults in the U.S. will experience bouts of economic insecurity.


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