If a house is on fire, fire engines do not stop for red lights, they blast their sirens & disregard the rules. Ditto ambulances. Well, our house is on fire and people are dying and we are the ambulance drivers. Petitions aren’t working and neither are votes. Time to run some red lights.
Connecting the Dots: A Graphic Tale Of Social, Economic, Gender, and Racial Injustice & Our Government’s Refusal to Address It
Yesterday, I reported on the remarkable Poor People’s Campaign kickoff in ABQ. Today, I present a more graphic and simple explication that connects some dots, which I call The Graphic Tale. The graphics below describe socio-economic factors that tell an unmistakable story of social, racial, gender, and economic injustice and what would appear to be an almost willful refusal of our government to implement policies–clearly supported by the American people–that would address this injustice.
What’s more, the graphics depict the unmistakable trend of our government promoting policies that allow for the concentration of wealth and profit among an increasingly narrow segment of the population: the rich and super rich, and the corporations and mega corporations, at the expense of the middle class and the poor.
We were told in school that a picture tells a thousand words, so today’s post will do just that. The Graphic Tale points to the need to shift the conversation entirely, break out of our issue-focused silos, and adopt an intersectional perspective. No single bill or group of bills and no sweeping election victory appears to matter. Certainly we would be better off without Trump-Pence and the GOP in control. But when Democrats have had control, our lives have not improved measurably and issues have not been addressed systemically and comprehensively. Some things are just right or wrong, just or unjust and when there is a clear pattern of unaddressed injustice, it is time to change the conversation entirely.
The purpose of The Graphic Tale is not to delve into the weeds of “how is this happening?” or what policies might change this, but simply to present in very graphic and simple terms where we are as a Nation, how bad it is, and how far it is from what the American people clearly want.
Distribution of National Income Growth: Let’s start with how much of our national income growth goes to corporate profits compared with wages. How do you think profits are generated? Might people have just a little to do with it? If they do, they certainly aren’t being rewarded for their contribution.
For another view on income distribution, how much of the pre-tax income in America goes to the top 0.1%? I used this chart last week and it is as graphic as the chart above. Very clearly, for 45 years with a few ups and downs, an unmistakable concentration of wealth is happening, is being allowed to happen, or more accurately is being fostered by policies that are not serving the majority.
A View from New Mexico. New Mexico ranks 48th to 50th in almost almost everything good, with almost the only exception being access to healthcare (thank you Obamacare). One would hope however that New Mexicans each pay their fair share in taxes, right? Nope. Somehow our tax structure asks our poorest neighbors to pay the highest proportion of their income.
Racial Injustice Meets Economic Injustice. From a racial perspective, a few tables capture a very bleak picture in relation to income distribution and race. And it is not a pretty picture with the gap income between Anglos and either Blacks or Hispanics widening to ever larger gaps over time. It is an unmistakable trend.
Gender Income. To add another layer to the picture, we examine gender injustice, and here we will restrict ourselves to income. There is so much wrong about what the chart below depicts. Note how much non-teaching males’ income has increased in relation to both their 1995 income and in relation to women. Over the same period the income of non-teaching women has barely budged.
Equal Pay. There has been a steady improvement in equal pay for equal work for women over time. But consider that if the equal pay gap is narrowing, and the total per capita income for women in proportion to men is not, there is only one unmistakable conclusion to be drawn: Women are being barred from opportunities to earn higher incomes. I am sure this shocks no one.
Elderly Poverty Rates by Gender. Where does a lifetime of lower income leave women as they age? Women are consistently more likely to be living in poverty than men, and that proportion only increases as women age.
Elderly Near Poverty Rate by Gender & Race. The next chart is even more telling as it looks at elderly near poverty rates by gender and ethnicity. No surprises again, as these rates show women almost 50% more likely to be living near poverty, and then when race is factored in the likelihood increases significantly, with Hispanic and black women almost twice as likely to be living in poverty as males. Certainly if the comparison were between white males and black women, the proportion would be far more than double.
Criminal Justice and Race. When viewing incarceration rates by ethnicity, we see an even more extreme pattern of racial injustice. The chart below depicts the proportion of incarcerated adults per 100,000 residents. It is important to note that these rates are for nonviolent drug offenses, with whites not being incarcerated for these relatively benign offenses while people of color and particularly blacks are incarcerated for offenses that do not result in incarceration for whites.
Incarceration Rates in America. The chart below graphically depicts the degree to which incarceration rates have risen dramatically in the US beginning in 1980, with the surge increasing rapidly with Clinton’s War on Crime. It is important to note how arrests impact families and communities of color. Not only do those with arrest records face additional hurdles in obtaining a job with a living income, but families and entire communities are disrupted socially. What’s more, those with felonies are prevented from voting, a disenfranchisement that quite obviously impacts communities of color to a far greater degree. Communities of color tend to vote for more progressive candidates. Is there perhaps a connection here between the war on crime and the desire to ensure that elected representatives do not have to address the economic interests of low-income communities?
The trends summarized above could also have been presented in relation to health, housing, and education outcomes. They could have been examined by impacts from environmental impacts from toxins (Flint? Four Corners? Southern NM from the Trinity A-Bomb Test?) or from climate change events (New Orleans?). It could have been examined from the perspective of upper mobility or victimization from police violence. In all cases, the trend would have been unmistakable: low-income communities of color are historically and increasingly the ones who suffer from injustice in all forms. And women in general and women of color more specifically are disproportionately the victims of injustice.
These are trends that most of us have long understood, and throughout I noted that none of this will surprise most of you. So if many of these injustices are understood, it may not be surprising that Americans tend to favor a range of policies that would substantially address these injustices. And indeed, that is the case, but here to a very surprising degree. The chart below is not easy to read, but a link to a clearer pdf is here. Even in this version, the trend is unmistakable: The American public by wide margins favors increasing taxes on the wealthy, universal pre-k, debt-free college, expansion of Social Security…the list is almost endless. Yet we have none of this. None.
We have to ask ourselves: If the American public supports policies that would address the injustices above and our elected officials over many years have not been able to legislate those policies, what gives? Certainly these policies are not being implemented for lack of effort, for each of the issues below there are well-organized constituencies generally represented by unions, progressive PACs or lobbyists, or other NGOs. The constituents of these organizations have petitioned, called, written letters, and protested, apparently to no avail.
This is where the Poor People’s Campaign comes into play as it connects these dots and plans a dramatically different strategy for changing the conversation: civil rights and anti-war style civil disobedience. This also brings us back to the ambulance and fire trucks. Together, the charts above depict a house on fire, with millions of people suffering and even dying from indifference. Apparently, the normal civic discourse, our petitions, our calls, our letters, and our votes are not helping those in desperate straits. And so the Poor People’s Campaign calls on us to become drivers of ambulances and fire trucks and to suspend adherence to the rules, to blare our sirens, and to blast through stop signs. Over the coming months the details of what this entails will become clear, but for now we are asking if you want to continue to wait to have our government pay attention to us, our needs and our priorities, or is it time to blare the sirens and push through the stop signs and red lights?
Roxanne and Paul