Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Rich Get Rich and the Poor Get Poorer

Hunger and Homelessness in America

"There's n
othing surer; the rich get rich and the poor get poorer," was a slogan of the roaring 20s. The famous phrase was adapted from “Ain’t We Got Fun,” a popular song recorded in 1921. So what’s new in America in the first decade of the 2000s?

Nothing! America’s top 72 wage earners averaged 84 million
ollars each in income in 2009, according to Social Security Administration data. The richest 1 percent of us earned 24 % of the nation's total income, the highest since 1928, just before the Great Depression. On the other hand, 14.3 % were living in poverty in 2009, according to the U. S Census Bureau. 50 million people from 17.4 million families are so poor they couldn’t buy sufficient food last year. About one million children from more than a third of these households missed meals regularly according to a recent study by the Department of Agriculture. At dinner, families gather to share together. But for the children, dinner time can be the cruelest part of the day. Almost 1 in 4 of them doesn’t know when they will have their next meal.

Because there is a high turnover and many homeless people stay hidden, homeless and hunger counts are only estimates. The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported a count of 643,067 homeless persons nationwide on a single night in January 2008. 1.6 million used emergency shelters or transitional housing during 2007/2008, suggesting that 1 in every 50 persons in the US used the shelter system at some point. 170,000 families lived in homeless shelters.

With home foreclosures at record highs and continuing unemployment, homelessness is increasing.

Republicans in the U.S. House have blocked a bill that would have extended jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed beyond the holiday season. About 2 million people will lose their benefits if they are not extended, according to the National Employment Law Project. The blocked benefits would save the jobless from hunger and homelessness during the most severe recession since the 1930s and boost spending in the economy that will generate more jobs. Long-term unemployed workers are likely to spend their benefits right away on rent, food and other necessities, and create jobs in our economy. The Congressional Budget office estimates the "multiplier" effect of spending $65 billion on unemployment insurance extensions will increase gross domestic product $104.7 billion which translates into 488,000 payroll jobs.

The plutocrats controlling our government with campaign cont
ributions and slick lobbyists oppose extending benefits to unemployed people. They fight to keep their unjust tax cuts and sit on the billions in bailout cash they received that we were told would save the economy and create jobs for poor and unemployed people. U. S. companies reported after-tax profits of $1.22 trillion last quarter, the highest on record dating back to 1947, according to the Department of Commerce.
When will some of their government bailout welfare for the rich trickle down to poor and working people?

My wife, Judy and I are sponsors of an organization called Homeless Helping Homeless and volunteer at the local winter shelter. And, along with about 35 other people from diverse backgrounds, we have fed an average of 150 mostly homeless and hungry people every Sunday afternoon for the past 7 years at Finlay Park in downtown Columbia, South Carolina. . Each server brings a dish or two--turnip greens, mac and cheese, fresh fruit, banana pudding. Pastries are donated by local super markets. Our picnic provides a nutritious and tasty meal for the homeless and many of the servers.We are known as Food Not Bombs, a national organization that encourages feeding hungry people rather than supporting military madness.

Our a-frame sign, set up near the entrance to our picnic, has a famous quote from a speech by former General and President Dwight Eisenhower that describes the military industrial complex:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

The U.S.
defense budget is $720 billion, which includes the Pentagon base budget, Department of Energy nuclear weapons activities and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We far outstrip the rest of the world in defense spending, surpassing the next closest country by more than eight times. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports that the U.S. military budget accounts for 43% of the world’s total military spending.
If we heed the words of Eisenhower and stop the madness we call war, if we require the wealthiest to pay their fair share, then perhaps we can end hunger and homelessness in America. There will be food, not bombs, and we will no longer destroy the hopes of our children.


  1. Considering that the top 25 hedge fund managers earned an average of over one billion dollars in 2009, I suspect that the top 75 earned much more than 84 million.

    Hell, if the next 50 did not earn anything, the top 75 including the hedge fund managers would average over 300 million each.

  2. Jerry, the figures referred to the average income of the top 72 wage earners in 2009. They came from the Social Security Administration were cited in the Wall Street Journal and the Financial News. These were the top 72 wage earning, tax-paying Americans--not the richest, you are right about that.

    I should have clarified the difference between them and others--such as hedge fund managers-- who did not earn, but were PAID really obscene amounts of money and who probably did not pay taxes on that money at all.

  3. Jerry, I corrected the sentence to make it clearer. Thanks.

  4. I believe the hedge fund managers income is taxed as dividends through some sort of loop hole, so they only pay about 15% tax on it.

  5. Jerry,

    The bottom line in the US is the bottom line. The big bucks boys own our political system and hedge fund managers get what they want by loop holes or whatever guise they concoct to rip us off.


  6. Shaw,

    Thanks for saying Amen.

    You could be right by saying capitalism is a good thing if it is properly regulated when you disagreed with my contention the other day. I said capitalism is a simply vehicle for greed, and we ought to work for democratic socialism.

  7. I agree. Capitalism is a vehicle for greed. It leads to monopolies and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few with the majority of people suffering and working for slave wages. Ultimately, it all comes crashing down.

    Government is the means to control capitalism and limit its growth and the extent of its power. When capitalism, through corporations, gains control of government, like we are currently approaching, regulation breaks down, and we end up in the situation that we currently are facing.

  8. As we cut back, bail out, support, finance, and intercede, the basic bottom line is that all of the money, all of the value did not fall off the face of the earth. It was not misplaced or lost in a fire...

    It was transferred...

    So all of the sudden when disaster hits its not the ones who benefitted from the meltdown that are asked to come forth and stabilize the system its those who derived no benefit from the current system.

    It just galls me to realize that the individuals least able to pay for the mistakes of others are the first ones expected to endenture themselves for the benefit of the few.

  9. Jerry,

    I agree. The large corporate interests have a strangle hold on our(their?)government. They own Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court, whose Citizens United decision obliterated any semblance of meaningful campaign finance regulation.

  10. Your are right on, Brother TAO.

    Sadly, as our post title says, The Rich get Rich and the Poor Get Poorer. We need an equitable redistribution of the ill-gotten gain.

    Thanks for your comment.

  11. George Santayana a poet and philospher once said. Those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it!!! The Decline of the Roman Empire By English Historian Edward Gibbon states that the political,economic, & military expansionist contributed to the gradual disintergration of that society and other social institutions. This was a very slow decline over a period of 320 years. All of this big goverment & Rich Fat cats creating a great divide between the haves and the have nots with a dwindling middle class!I don't believe you will only have to worry about the terriost abroad. America will have to be equally concerned about whats going on in it's own backyard. All of that with a possibility of a third front opening on the Korean peninsula.Maybe thats the Rich Fat Cats idea of making the economy better by creating another war and try to get rid of the lower & middle class.... John Holmes Chairman HHH

  12. Thanks for your comment John.

    I agree with you and think that you are correct about the trumped up stuff regarding Korea. The folks who call the shots in the military industrial complex make big bucks in the killing tools/weapons business and have to keep fear of an enemy and hostilities alive so they can make even more money. Their big bucks and profits are fueled by war and the threat of war.

    Judy and I appreciate your great leadership as Chairman of Homeless Helping Homeless of Columbia.

  13. Eisenhower was a very wise man and true leader, something lacking from the republican party now although I have my fingers and toes crossed that someone will take a stand.

    Tom and Judy please send me some info on the Homeless Helping Homeless and bringing food to Finlay Park on Sundays. Would like to help in some fashion.

  14. Thanks for asking. We meet at 1pm every Sunday just off the parking lot at the top of the park (by the waterfall). We'd love to have you come and visit, eat or bring a dish. Those who serve and those who eat will welcome you and you will make lots of friends on both sides of the table. The last two Sundays we've had 170 and 180 people come to eat. With the weather getting colder, I think the numbers will continue to grow. Everybody Food Not Bomber I know says it is their favorite time of the week. It surely is ours.

    I will send you additional information by e-mail. I have a flyer, a couple of blog posts from Tim O'Keefe --Ordinary Guy (one of the best writers I know and a dedicated FNBer) and a great magazine article by another of our literary FNBers. Obviously I am a little gushy about FNB. If you come, you'll see why.

  15. That should have been:

    Every Food Not Bomber I know says it is ..........

  16. There is nothing wrong with making money. The relative inequity is troubling , particularly in the face of such big problems. But at the same time it seems rather hypocritical to say "those evil hedge fund managers" when at the same the ratio of middle class income (which I am guessing you probably fall somewhere near or above) to those in third world countries is just as obscene. The problem of inequity has more to do with the perception of what is possible rather than what the reality of a situation is. I'm sure people living 500 years from now will still pity the hedge fund managers of today much in the same way I look back on kings in the middle ages and can't fathom living in such a primitive society. I am just saying we should "look at the plank in our own eye" first

  17. Thanks for your comment, Justin.

    You are right about most of us being rich compared to people living in third world countries.

    Everything is relative and each person has a different perception of what is a good and just society. My sense of morality makes me question a culture with a greedy and enormously wealthy few and many very poor people. As you point out, extreme wealth and poverty is nothing new in human history.

    I am not even close to being wealthy and have never desired to have more than I need. We have lived in a 1700 sq. ft. house for 37 years and drive a 1993 and 2010 Honda Civic.

    Unregulated capitalism is not only a vehicle for the greedy but is also ecologically unsustainable. Capitalism has experienced economic cycles of boom and bust and is also a handmaiden of war. War is usually motivated by a desire to take land and resources from the "enemy" as well as make money from the weapons/killing tools business aka the military industrial complex as described by Eisenhower in my essay above. I would rather work for peace and poor people than run a hedge fund. I have no desire to manipulate money and put profits over people.

    I agree with you that we are no more greedy than cultures of the past but we do have more technology that enables us to make big money quicker and kill more people.

    Thanks again for your stimulating comment.

  18. Having lived for quite sometime in third world countries let me address Justin...

    The issue of poverty is a globalized issue. But if you look at individual countries, Thailand, Burma, The Phillippines or anywhere in Africa you will notice they all have one simple thing in common: All of the country's wealth is controlled by a very small group of people. With this obscene distribution of wealth comes political and economic corruption and dramatic destruction of human resources and the ecology.

    I used to marvel at the number of destitute people living in slums in various third world countries always spoke about "America" and "JFK" in the most worshipful manner...

    Now, that is not the case because in fact we have become a third world country. What hope or what solutions can the people of the world have if we become like them?

  19. Just to add another dimension: I just listened to a piece on NPR that stated 1 in 4 homeless Americans living on the street are U.S. military veterans. Something is very wrong with that, and another symptom of the dis-ease at the top. Great blog, thanks. -G.

  20. Tom and Judy please send me some info on the Homeless Helping Homeless and bringing food to Finlay Park on Sundays. Would like to help in some fashion.

  21. TAO; I agree with you about the US becoming more and more like a third world country with such a drastic increase in the disparity of wealth between the rich and poor.

    We also need to consider the situations in third world countries in a historical perspective. In most of the third world countries the indigenous people did not have such a disparity of wealth before the mostly European and US imperialists came to their regions of the world to control and exploit their natural resources (including indigenous slave labor). The imperial/colonial powers have also used divide and conquer tactics to control many of the third world countries and have installed and supported despots to do their bidding.

  22. Gerald aka The Edge Columns, thanks for your comment. In checking out your bio. piece you say you are becoming "less conservative" the older you get. I know the feeling because if I get much "less conservative", I might be considered a left-wing Commie radical by very conservative folks.

    My educated guess would be that at least 30-40% of the people we feed in Finlay Park each Sunday are veterans and many of them suffer from post traumatic syndrome. PTSD is a common illness among veterans who have experienced and witnessed the horror of the kill or be killed aspects of mortal combat.

  23. Rashid1891, here comes a long answer for you or anyone else who is interested in Food Not Bombs. I will be writing a post about our experiences soon, but in the meantime, here are the details about what it is and how to get involved.

    We feed at the top of Finlay Park in downtown Columbia at 1 every Sunday. It is on the little patio area off the top parking lot, off Laurel Street, in front of the luxury condos overlooking the park. We get there about 5-10 minutes till one. If you get there much before that, we won’t be there yet (but we are coming). If you are much after that, we will have already started (That’s OK, you can come join us after we have started serving) If it is raining or about to, we serve down at the bandstand at the bottom of the park because it is covered.

    Tom and I buy the stuff we need sometime on Saturday (depending on our schedule) and fix it that night. We store it in our second refrig. In the garage and take it to church with us and put it in the stove or refrig in the church kitchen till after church. We all bring a huge variety of things. Tom and I bring a big pot of greens and potato salad. When it gets real cold we will bring Mom’s Succotash (Okra corn tomatoes mushrooms etc—made up recipe, huge pot).A Korean church that comes cooks their large dish at the church. Some of the Quaker kids fix sandwiches together. Others bring chili, Mac and cheese, tossed salad, fruit, baked vegetables, corn, pot pie, venison stew (her husband is a hunter) meat loaf, squash casserole, etc. We do not bring bread or desserts because we get tons of that donated by the grocery stores. Sometimes they donate other things—huge box of fried chicken for instance.

    We have a second hand van we bought and tables and supplies which we store in it--paper plates, napkins, gloves, hand sanitizer, plastic silverware, extra serving spoons, pie and cake cutters, cleaning supplies and paper towels, all bought with donations. When the van arrives, the tables are quickly set up (with the help of the homeless guys), and food is laid out, like a covered dish dinner. At 1:00 the line starts to move. We have about 160-180 who come through, sometimes less. We give out tickets as they arrive (the ticket man arrives early) so they can line up in order, rather than just crowding around (their suggestion). We have cleaned the tables and grounds, packed up the supplies and are gone by 2:20. There are about 35 people who bring stuff—when they are not out of town or have conflicts.

    The faces change when someone graduates or moves or just gets burned out with giving up their Sundays. We have become a close knit group over the seven years some of us have been coming and often meet on Friday or Saturday night to celebrate birthdays or whatever.

    The name of the group is obvious. We are generally peace loving. We believe in feeding the world, rather than fighting. We believe there is enough food in the world to feed us all. In America we waste huge amounts, so we try to gather it from grocery stores or the farmers market (stuff they are throwing away—perfectly good) or leftovers from events—or wherever we can find it. Most we buy and cook ourselves—we have the means to do that

    Come join us. Tom and I enjoy it more than any other thing we do all week.


Because of many spam comments, we have had to add comment moderation.I agree with Pooh, "Oh bother!" Please be patient.