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A recipient carries a box of food as others wait in line at a Food Bank distribution for those in need as the coronavirus pandemic continues on April 9, 2020 in Van Nuys, California. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A recipient carries a box of food as others wait in line at a Food Bank distribution for those in need as the coronavirus pandemic continues on April 9, 2020 in Van Nuys, California. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Four Numbers that Show America's Disdain for Its Most Vulnerable People

The nation's plague of economic inequality and poverty puts everyone at risk.

Paul Buchheit

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have suffered "deaths of despair" from alcohol and drug abuse and suicides because they could no longer provide for their families. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, during a post-recession period when the economy and stock market were booming, the poorest 50% of Americans lost wealth. And now many of them have lost their jobs, their income, their livelihoods.

40%: The Percentage of Lost Jobs that May Be Lost for Good

Anywhere from half to three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Now the paychecks are disappearing. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs, many of which will not come back. A recent paper out of the University of Chicago estimates that over 40 percent of jobs lost are gone for good.

$40 Trillion: The Amount of Wealth that Went to America's Richest 10% in Just Ten Years

The poorest 50% got nothing. Their wealth actually declined.

Over three-quarters of our wealth is owned by the richest 10% of Americans. Over $40 trillion has surged up to these individuals since the recession, allowing them to more than double their wealth to an average of over $3 million, mainly by doing nothing while the stock market nearly quadrupled in value. That's American prosperity being shifted upwards, a redistribution of wealth to households that were already wealthy.

America has nearly 20 million millionaires—approximately one for every seven households. But four of seven households are living without savings.

$8.70: The Amount of Black Household Wealth for Every $100.00 of White Household Wealth

The economic pain is greatest for black households, who have seen their median household income drop over the past twenty years, while their total household wealth remains at about one-twelfth of white households. The pain and misfortune continue to pile up for the black community, which has suffered the greatest effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of their job losses and lack of savings and inability to maintain rent payments, they will be taking the brunt of an inevitable housing crisis; and, in perhaps the cruelest hit of all, the Trump administration is still considering cuts in the food stamp program.

1 Hour: The Amount of Work in a Week to be Qualified as 'Employed'

Even if the jobs come back, they won't be enough for millions of part-time workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics bases the official unemployment rate on employees "who did any work for pay or profit" during the week being surveyed. That includes part-time workers who are employed for just one hour a week.

Even with that absurd definition of employment in America, unemployment levels were still not reduced for the Black community in the first month of recovery from the pandemic.

The Insanity of Not Having a Guaranteed Income

The need for a guaranteed income (or, even better, guaranteed jobs) was clear well before the pandemic. Robot technology has been steadily replacing workers, and unlike in the past the workforce is not evolving into a higher skill level. Much of our thinking is now performed by machine. And that technology—artificial intelligence—was largely built by the taxpayers. The jobs remaining are, to a good extent, either high-tech positions with six-figure salaries or low-skilled jobs in food service, retail, and health and personal care.

Now, with a quarter of the population facing economic collapse, the need for a guaranteed income is magnified to a level last seen in the Great Depression. It seems to have worked in Stockton, California. It has a wide range of supporting voices behind it. Most strikingly, the pandemic has made it clear that a dramatic change will be required in the way Americans provide for their families.

How to implement it? A very small tax on financial wealth. With just two percent of each household's financial wealth each year, our nation could generate enough revenue to provide nearly a $14,000 annual stipend to every American household (yes, including those of the richest families).

Does this "soak the rich"? No, everyone pays a tiny portion of their financial wealth, and everyone receives an equal portion in return.

If the wealthiest Americans continue to resist this sensible and obvious solution, the violence that plagues our nation will continue to get worse. And violence, as peace advocate Robert Burrowes has long maintained, is a reflection of a people's insanity.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at)

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