On the News With Thom Hartmann: Low Taxes on the Rich Have Furthered Inequality, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Low taxes on the rich have made them much richer and have left the rest of us trying to catch up; Spokane, Washington, is the latest US city to pass its own sick leave legislation; a new bill would withhold funding from any municipality that uses private probation companies that hike up fees and throw people behind bars when they can’t pay; 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. Thomas Piketty, the world-famous French economist, has ran the numbers on American income inequality. And, his analysis confirmed what many of us already know – low taxes on the rich have made them much richer, and have left the rest of us trying to catch up. According to new research presented at the American Economic Association, since 1980, incomes for the top 1 percent have grown about four times faster than the bottom 90 percent. After reviewing surveys, national accounts and other tax data, Piketty and his colleagues found that most of that growth has been driven by capital income. Before 1990, most of the income gains – even in the top 1 percent – were the results of higher wages. Because taxes went up along with higher pay, income equality was relatively consistent for decades. But, when those at the top started bringing in more of their income through capital gains, the income gap started to widen. Previous studies have suggested that low taxes on capital gains income are “by far the largest contributor” to income inequality, and this latest research confirms that suggestion. For most of us, wages have been relatively stagnant over the last 40 years – increasing by less than 1 percent per year. Meanwhile, the top 10 percent are taking in a larger share of the income than they did in the roaring 1920s, and they’ve convinced the working folks like us to oppose any increase in the taxes that would help level the playing field. As Piketty’s research shows, our system is rigged to benefit those at the top, and it’s so broken that many Americans believe they should oppose the tax policies that would bridge the great wealth divide. Rich people have every right to make their money off of capital investments, but that doesn’t mean they deserve lower tax rates than the people who must work to survive. We can’t close the income gap without closing the tax divide, so it’s time to make those at the top pay their taxes, just like the rest of us.

Red states around the country may be pushing for more charter schools, but one school board in California doesn’t want any. According to a recent op-ed published by AlterNet, the Anaheim School Board is asking Orange County residents to “stand with our children and call for an immediate temporary moratorium on charter schools at all levels.” That op-ed was written in response to the Orange County Board of Education, which is allowing two charter schools to move into the area, despite those schools having questionable records. Even though charter schools have track records of poor performance, safety concerns and other issues, Orange County has doubled the number of charters allowed in the county. In their op-ed, the school board says that’s because Board of Education president Robert Hammond “believes in handing over control of our public schools to private organizations.” Thankfully, the Orange County school board makes clear that parents and teachers aren’t going to allow that privatization without out a fight.

The right-wing justices on our nation’s highest court want to strike another blow to the heart of public unions. Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which is the latest legal challenge to so-called “fair-share fees.” Those fees are the amount collected to cover the cost of negotiating for all workers – which is legally required, regardless of whether or not those workers are members of the public union. Eliminating those fees would severely impact public-sector unions and essentially make “right to work for LESS” the law of the land throughout our nation. According to the editorial board of The Nation magazine, if fair-share fees are eliminated, “The legal foundation of thousands of public-sector bargaining agreements, covering millions of workers providing all manner of public service, will disappear.” It’s that serious. And it’s that important that we fight to elect leaders who will restore and protect our right to democracy in the workplace.

For more than a year, President Obama has been calling on Congress to pass legislation to guarantee all workers can take time off when they’re sick. Since our legislators show no signs of moving forward with that, Spokane, Washington, is refusing to wait any longer. Last week, that city broke in the New Year by passing their own sick leave legislation. The new measure will require small businesses to give workers the chance to earn three paid days off every year, and employees at larger businesses will be able to earn five. Although that may not seem like much, a few days can make a world of difference to someone who can’t afford to stay home without pay when they’re not well. With the addition of Spokane’s new law, there are now 28 cities in our nation that guarantee paid sick time, but that leaves a long, long way to go. We are the only developed nation, that doesn’t give all workers the right to stay home when they’re sick. Call Congress today and tell them to take a cue from Spokane and end this embarrassing statistic once and for all.

And finally … Over the years we’ve heard too many stories of people getting locked up because they couldn’t afford legal fees. Now, we’re finally hearing about someone whose doing something about that. Last week, Democratic Representative Mark Takano and five co-sponsors introduced a bill to withhold funding from any municipality that uses private probation companies that hike up fees and throw people behind bars when they can’t pay. Although they would like to prohibit those companies entirely, Representative Takano explained, “We don’t have the authority to just go and prohibit [private probation companies] and tell them what they can and can’t do.” So, they’re using grant money to “encourage better behavior.” That’s what the power of the purse is all about. If lawmakers can’t stop this immoral activity, they can at least make it more expensive and difficult. No one should be locked in jail because they can’t afford tickets and fees, and it’s great news that lawmakers are finally standing up to these de facto debt prisons at long last.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of January 18, 2016 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.