On the News With Thom Hartmann: Half of all Americans Are Living in or Close to Poverty, and More

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In today’s On the News segment: A family of four needs an income of at least $60,000 a year to reach a “modest living standard,” but 50 percent of all Americans make less than half that amount; for the 12th year in a row, the United Nations Development Index has ranked Norway as the best country in the world to live in; Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage has gone to great lengths to demonize the poor in his state; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this: According to the Economic Policy Institute, a family of four needs an income of at least $60,000 a year to reach a “adequate but modest living standard.” But, 50 percent of all Americans make less than half that amount. Paul Buchheit over at AlterNet reports that new Social Security Administration data shows that one out of every two Americans is living in – or damn near close – to flat out poverty. Half of all Americans have no savings at all, and nearly three out of four people who have saved have less than $1,000 on hand to cover emergency expenses. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, more than 60 percent of our fellow Americans couldn’t afford to repair their car if it needed a brake job. Many on the right claim that earning more is all about working harder, and that those who struggle simply haven’t pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. But the fact of the matter is that there aren’t enough bootstraps to go around. According to the Alliance for a Just Society, there are seven job applicants for every job opening that pays more than $15 an hour. And, for those who take a job paying less, it’s almost impossible to make ends meet – even with two people working full time in one household. There simply aren’t enough good-paying jobs to go around, and Republicans in Congress refuse to raise wages or invest in the type of education and infrastructure that could make those jobs available. The middle class has been destroyed by the billionaires, and more Americans fall out of that category every day. In other words, for many people in our country, the “American Dream” has become the American nightmare. This is not the country our grandparents worked to create. And, this is not the country that we should leave our grandchildren. We can do better. In this election cycle, we must fight harder than ever to elect those who will fight for us. We need lawmakers who want to restore the middle class and rebuild the “American Dream.” Democracy begins with each of us, so let’s get busy. Tag you’re it.

Should screwing over workers disqualify you for president? Workers at Donald Trump’s Vegas Casino certainly think that it should. Last week, only one day before the Republican debate, Trump’s lawyers launched a legal challenge to block 500 workers at his hotel from forming a union. Earlier this month, workers at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas voted to join the Culinary Workers Union and Bartenders union, both of which belong to a national union for hospitality workers. According to employees who spoke to the Think Progress blog, that lawsuit shows that the company is “objecting to the outcome of the vote and want it thrown out.” Those workers have been fighting for more than a year to obtain the same rights as hospitality workers all over Vegas, like health coverage for family members and a guaranteed pension. Bethany Khan of the Culinary Workers Union explained, “The Trump Hotel Las Vegas workers are paid approximately $3.33 less per hour across classifications compared to workers all around them who do the same work…” And that’s unacceptable. Perhaps it’s time that someone ask Mr. Trump why he doesn’t believe in workers’ rights or democracy in the workplace.

For the 12th year in a row, the United Nations Development Index has ranked Norway as the best country in the world to live. In comparison, the United States is number eight on that list. Although Norway’s honor was awarded based on several factors, shared prosperity lies at the heart of that nation’s success. According to Jens Wandel, who heads the UN’s Development Program (UNDP), “Norway has overtime managed to increase its income, and at the same time ensured that incomes are relatively evenly distributed.” That country has proven that it’s possible to get richer without screwing over the poor. Helen Clark, a UNDP administrator, said that this report is also “an urgent call to tackle one of the world’s greatest development challenges – providing enough decent work and livelihoods for all.” If we really want to be exceptional, let’s follow Norway’s lead and embrace more shared prosperity policies here at home.

Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage has gone to great lengths to demonize the poor in his state. Thankfully, the federal government is finally getting involved to fight back on behalf of those residents. Due to LePage’s policies, two out of three food stamp re-applications are not reviewed in a timely manner, and one out of three simply never receives a response at all. Last week, the Department of Agriculture issued a warning to the LePage administration, demanding that the state fix their food stamp application process or face significant penalties. In a letter to the governor’s office, the USDA wrote, “Maine’s poor timeliness performance negatively impacts SNAP clients across the State and must be addressed.” They warned, “This letter serves as advance notification that DHHS could soon be subject to suspension or disallowance of administrative funds.” In other words, if Maine doesn’t improve their food stamp application process, they will lose the federal matching funds that cover the cost of overseeing the SNAP program. Although this doesn’t provide immediate relief to the struggling families who need help putting food on the table, it’s a strong step toward fixing the damage that Gov. Paul LePage has done to the SNAP program in his state.

And finally… Regardless of who you support in the 2016 race, the important part is getting involved and participating in our democracy. So, it’s pretty great news that Sen. Bernie Sanders has received 2 million campaign contributions from folks just like you and me. That means that the Sanders’ Campaign could surpass President Obama’s 2012 record of 2.2 million contributions by the end of 2011. And, with an average donation of just $20, Bernie Sanders says that these contributions show he is accountable to “people power” – not billionaires or corporations. Democrats are going to need every single supporter to turn out and make 2016 a sweeping success, so let’s make sure that every one of these contributors turns out next November.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of December 21, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.