In today’s On the News segment: The wealth gap in our country isn’t just increasing inequality, it’s also putting people out of work; Seattle’s socialist city council member wants homeless people to have access to the internet; Walmart is asking employees to donate food to coworkers who can’t survive on poverty wages; and more.
You need to know this. The wealth gap in our country isn’t only increasing inequality, it’s putting people out of work. In an interview with Lynn Parramore of Alternet, economists Barry Cynamon and Steven Fazzari explained how long-term and rising inequality kills jobs and holds back our entire economy. Many economists believe that inequality is only a short-term problem, and that it leads to those at the top spending more and creating jobs. However, this new research shows that isn’t the case. Cynamon and Fazzari’s research, which is part of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, proves what many of us have been saying all along. When the vast majority of people struggle to survive on decades of stagnant wages, they don’t have money to spend, they don’t stimulate the economy, and more people end up out of work. As three decades of Reaganomics has put more and more money in the hands of a few, as this new research explains, “it will become more difficult for the economy to generate the sales it needs to support job creation.” And, as many of us know, all that talk of “trickle-down” and “job creators” is nothing but lies. In order to create an economy that works for all of us, all of us need to have a little money to spend. That’s the only real way to increase demand, to spur job creation, and to start closing the wealth gap once and for all. As Mr. Fazzari explained, “Broadly, I think we need to work toward a goal of shared prosperity, wage growth that keeps up with productivity growth across the income distribution.” In other words, we need an economy that works for more than just those at the top, and it’s up to us to fight for it.
Seattle’s Socialist City Council member wants homeless people to have access to the internet. Last week, Kshama Sawant said she thinks that a portion of the upcoming city budget should be used to improve the lives of people living in homeless camps, and that includes having access to the world wide web. The more conservative members of the Council think that the budget should be devoted to other causes. However, Kshama Sawant argues that internet access will help these individuals apply for jobs, contact family and friends, and keep up with news and current events. She said, “We are no longer looking at internet as a luxury. We have to make sure we provide humane services for everybody.” These days, many jobs applications and other important services are only available online, and this internet access could certainly help more homeless people get back on their feet. Regardless of whether Seattle’s City Council approves the measure, it’s nice to see that Kshama Sawant is one lawmaker who understands that internet access should be a right – not a privilege.
For at least the second year in a row, Walmart is asking employees to donate food to coworkers who can’t survive on poverty wages. Instead of paying people a living wage, the company is holding in-store food drives and asking workers to “succeed” by giving food to their fellow associates. Of course, it’s no surprise that Walmart finds no shame in asking others to pick up the tab for their poverty wages. The company is already subsidized by the taxpayers to the tune of $6.2 billion a year in government assistance programs for employees who don’t make enough to survive. But, asking their low-paid workers to pick up the tab for their practices is certainly an all-time low. If Walmart really cared about whether workers have enough to eat, they could simply pay a living wage and stop asking the taxpayers – and their employees – to cover this cost. La’Randa Jackson, a Walmart worker in Ohio, said, “My coworkers and I don’t want food bins. We want (the Waltons) to improve pay and hours so that we can buy our own groceries.” What will it take before Walmart gets that message?
Republicans in Tennessee still won’t expand Medicaid to help people in their state get affordable health care. But, one couple is refusing to give up on that fight. Larry and Linda Drain are now the unofficial faces of Medicaid advocacy in their state. Last week, the couple organized a public rally outside the Tennessee Capitol, and delivered a 48,000-signature petition to Governor Haslam calling on him to expand Medicaid. Larry and Linda’s income was slightly above the threshold to qualify for TennCare, that state’s public insurance program. But, they did not make enough to cover the cost of Linda’s epilepsy medication. Because their state won’t expand Medicaid, which would put the threshold at 138 percent of the poverty line, the couple had no choice by to divorce after 33 years of marriage. By living separately, Linda is able to qualify for the lower threshold and get her life-saving medication, but she had to give up living with her husband just to survive. So, the couple is fighting for their marriage and for the 161,000 people who can’t afford healthcare in their state without the Medicaid expansion. In an interview with the ThinkProgress Blog, Larry said, “My idea is that I should get to live with my wife. It’s nothing radical.” Now it’s up to Tennessee Republicans to live up to those “family values” that they love to talk about.
And finally… If you care about ending world hunger, you should work to empower women. That’s the finding in a new report by the Bread of the World Institute. The report, called “When Women Flourish… We Can End Hunger,” says that discrimination against women is one of the leading causes of persistent hunger and malnutrition. Women and girls who get a quality education typically have fewer children, are more likely to work as adults, and are more likely to have decision-making power in their households and communities. The authors of this report said, “There is no greater force multiplier than empowered women. When we make women’s rights and opportunity top priorities, we stand a much better chance of defeating intolerance, poverty, disease, and even extremism.” To change the world, let’s help women and girls realize their power.
And that’s the way it is – for the week of December 1, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.