By Greg Slabodkin
Nearly half a century ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a "war on poverty," making the plight of the poor a national priority. Today, however, the nation's overall poverty rate is 15 percent, the highest since 1983, and more than 46 million Americans live below the poverty line.
With the poverty rate at a record level, America's middle class continuing to shrink and the wealthiest Americans getting richer, the economic divide has never been greater. There are two Americas, one for the haves and one for the have-nots.
According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the United States has huge disparities in wealth and income, with the top 1 percent of Americans controlling 40 percent of the nation's wealth and taking in nearly a quarter of the income annually. Stiglitz argues that America's growing inequality, the highest among the world's richest countries, is "intolerable" and caused by a corrupt economic/political system that benefits the rich and powerful.
"When one interest group holds too much power, it succeeds in getting policies that benefit itself, rather than policies that would benefit society as a whole," writes Stiglitz in his new book, "The Price of Inequality."
Democratic and Republican administrations have allowed the working class and poor in this country to fall between the cracks. In this presidential election year, both President Obama and Mitt Romney have pandered to the middle class, while ignoring the problems of America's impoverished.
Romney's latest gaffe about the "47 percent" of Americans who see themselves as "victims" shows whose interests he will represent if he gets into the White House. Romney would give more tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations. For their part, Obama and the Democrats are merely using the rhetoric of class warfare to attract middle class voters, who are 54 percent of the U.S. electorate.
Americans need a political alternative to the duopoly of the Democratic and Republican parties that are awash in special interest and super PAC money. The Occupy Wall Street movement, which channeled the rage of the "99 percent" just last year, quickly fizzled and died due to a lack of an established leadership and a clearly defined agenda. Until the working class and poor get politically organized in this country, they will continue to be without a voice and representation in Washington.
The sad reality is that regardless of which party wins the presidential election in November, America will continue to be a nation not "with justice for all" but with preferential treatment for the privileged few. To quote billionaire Warren Buffett: "There is class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
Greg Slabodkin of Kenmore has worked for political action committees in Washington, D.C.