If you're unemployed, have had your home foreclosed, have an underwater mortgage, are living on a low fixed income or have major medical bills with no insurance, etc., the economy is truly awful.
Yet in the midst of our recession, 1,000 Facebook employees just became millionaires; big business and big oil are making record profits but paying fewer taxes and reaping massive subsidies; CEOs are making obscene salaries (S&P 500 CEOs make 344 times that of their average employee); the top 20 percent are benefiting greatly from the Bush tax cuts and 15 percent capital gains tax and their share of the nation's wealth is now a staggering 93 percent. Now Paul Ryan proposes a budget that would guarantee their fortunes rise while those of the poor and middle class fall.
Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, recently called Ryan's budget, "the most fraudulent budget in American history." On May 8, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter to Congress condemning his budget for proposing deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' aid, education, food stamps and women's health benefits. Ninety faculty members from Catholic-affiliated Georgetown University wrote in a separate letter to the House that Ryan's budget "appears to reflect the values of your (Ryan's) favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Some still blame President Obama for the slow economic turn-around even though his policies pulled the economy out of its Bush-era nosedive and turned job losses into gains. But the squeeze on the middle class didn't happen on his watch. Look at how the top marginal tax rate has steadily dropped from 92 percent in the 1950s to 35 percent today, how Bush's 15 percent capital gains tax has made the rich richer and how GOP "trickle-down-economics" and policies have impacted the poor and middle class:
1. The poor and middle class are poorer! The Census Bureau says the typical U.S. family got poorer during the past 10 years. Median household income fell 2.3 percent to $49,445 last year and has dropped 7 percent since 2000 after adjusting for inflation. Income was the lowest since 1996. The share of people living in poverty hit 15.1 percent the highest level since 1993, and 2.6 million more people moved into poverty, the most since the Census began keeping track in 1959. So don't hold your breath waiting for money to trickle down; it's gushing up.
2. Unions are under attack! Last March, Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, pushed through a bill stripping public employees and their unions of their collective bargaining rights. Love them or hate them, but unions are responsible for improving wages, workplace safety and employee benefits for all workers (union or not) and for helping to establish the middle class. In 1983 the union membership rate was 20.1 percent. In 2011, membership had dropped to 11.8 percent because 23 states enacted "Right-To-Work" laws, essentially squashing unions. While its title sounds positive for workers, it really means, "Right to Lower Wages." A 2010 Department of Labor report shows the average annual wage for the Right-To-Work states was $39,229 or $8,049 less than collective-bargaining states at $47,278.
3. The American dream is becoming a nightmare! Middle class dreams of owning your own home, going to college and early retirement are fading fast unless you can "borrow money from your parents" as Romney suggested. Since the housing bubble burst in 2008, millions of homeowners have lost or are losing their homes.
But is Romney sympathetic to their plight? Hardly! In October he said we should let the market hit bottom and, "allow investors to buy the homes and put renters in them..." That works well for wealthy real estate vultures ... not for struggling middle class home owners.
Nor is the GOP Legislature sympathetic to the steadily rising cost of college. They will let student loans double to 6.8 percent unless Democrats drastically cut women's health care benefits; a lousy tradeoff for the middle class. Early retirement isn't likely either since foreclosures and underwater mortgages have wiped out much if not all of the homeowners' equity and net worth.
Meanwhile, many banks flush with low-interest money refuse to work with home owners to stay in their homes.
Our tax policies, loopholes and laws have been stacked in favor of big business and the rich for far too long by lawmakers who have catered to wealthy donors and special interests ... including their own. Regardless of your party affiliation, if you're in the middle class it behooves you to find out who is working for your best interests. Ignore campaign promises and do the math yourself. Don't take a politician's word for anything. Look closely at every plan, budget and piece of proposed legislation then ask yourself, "What is it going to cost me this time?"
Beauchamp is a retired aerospace marketing director and consultant and a member of the local Coffee Party living in North Ogden.