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On the News With Thom Hartmann: Wealthy Americans More Likely to Have Retirement Accounts, and More

Low wages aren’t the only reason that the poor are getting poorer and the richer are getting richer.

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In today’s On the News segment: High-income Americans are 10 times more likely to have retirement accounts than those at the low-end of the income spectrum; more than 150,000 people in London are demanding an end to austerity policies; if lawmakers in Idaho have their way, poor families may be celebrating Independence Day with empty bellies; 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. Low wages aren’t the only reason that the poor are getting poorer and the richer are getting richer. According to new research from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), high-income Americans are 10 times more likely to have retirement accounts than those at the low-end of the income spectrum. And, the national shift away from defined-benefit pension plans into 401(k)’s has left more and more older Americans retiring in poverty. In the richest nation on the planet, this is simply unacceptable. That’s why EPI and other organizations are pushing Congress to expand — not cut — Social Security benefits. Decades ago, most working-class Americans were able to retire with dignity because of the defined-benefit plans provided by their employers, but that’s no longer the case. Those plans were pretty much wiped out and replaced with 401(k) plans that may or may not include matched contributions from employers. As low-wage workers don’t have much to contribute, employers don’t match anything, and retiring workers end up with little-to-no savings when it comes time to leave the workforce. And, even if some workers were able to save, their savings were subject to the turns of the stock market. Wealthier workers were able to contribute and save more in their retirement plans, and they are often better able to withstand the ups and downs of the market. The income disparity in retirement savings is so pronounced, 74 percent of total savings in retirement accounts belongs to the top 20 percent of earners, even though that group only brings in 63 percent of all income. Rich people aren’t just earning more, they’re saving more, and that leaves them in better shape for retirement. Poor people are left with no choice but to rely on Social Security benefits, which leaves them living in poverty. We can and should do better, and that starts with expanding, not cutting, these important benefits on which so many rely.

More than 150,000 people in London are demanding an end to austerity policies. Last week, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity held a March for Health, Homes, Jobs and Education. Those protesters are calling on David Cameron to resign in the wake of the Panama Papers revelations that he raked in profits from his father’s offshore investment fund. They marched through the streets of London earlier this month chanting, “No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts.” And “Dodgy Dave Get out, we know what you’re all about.” Sam Fairbairn, the national secretary for the People’s Assembly said, “We’re now seeing the potential for big unrest across the country and it wont be long until this government faces a movement for change they can’t control.” The people have had enough of austerity and it’s time for their government to recognize that they will never cut their way to prosperity.

If lawmakers in Idaho have their way, poor families may be celebrating Independence Day with empty bellies. According to a recent article over at the ThinkProgress blog, food stamp, or SNAP, benefits in Idaho may soon be distributed in a staggered system, which could hurt poor families at a time when most of us are celebrating July 4. Although the change will eventually help low-income residents in Idaho, implementing it may mean those families have to stretch food stamp dollars even farther while the details get sorted out. Right now, all SNAP benefits are issued on the first of the each month, and that causes havoc for customers and grocers. Stores fill up as shoppers rush in to fill their pantries, and then grow quiet in the later part of the month. This puts strain on food banks as most families need help towards the end of the month, and it makes staffing and inventory more difficult for grocery store managers. By staggering the benefits, the SNAP program could help spread out the glut of shoppers, and help food banks balance out their assistance. But first, lawmakers must find a way to help families put food on the table while those changes are being implemented.

Verizon workers and their allies are marching against greed. Last week, 40,000 Verizon workers continued their strike for the second week, and marched through the streets of Manhattan. There were so many workers marching in their bright red shirts that CNBC described the scene as a “sea of red.” Those workers are calling on Verizon executives to settle contract disputes and to stop the export of jobs to developing countries. Marchers were joined by city officials and local lawmakers, and they were even visited by both democratic candidates for president. One of the workers, Jain Cypher, said, “By denying most of us our collective bargaining, they’ve been able to worsen our job conditions, and keep our pay low, while they pump up the company’s profits higher and higher.” Just like many other massive corporations, Verizon has raked in billions of profits thanks to the hard work of their employees, but they don’t want to share that prosperity with their workers. That’s why people are out in the streets marching with Verizon employees, and, they will continue to fight for the pay, benefits and basic respect that those workers deserve.

And finally… Maryland is sticking up for disabled workers. Lawmakers in that state have passed legislation that to phase out the “sub minimum wage” that allows some workshops to pay disabled workers less than $4 an hour. Right now, disabled employees at so-called “sheltered workshops” make that low wage for performing basic tasks like hanging clothes or assembling products. But, Maryland residents today have a different attitude towards disabled workers and want these workers to earn a respectable wake. No one, regardless of their ability, should be cheated out of a respectable wage, and it’s time for disabled workers in all states to be paid just like the rest of us.

And that’s the way it is — for the week of April 25, 2016 — I’m Thom Hartmann — on the Economic and Labor News.

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