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SPOTLIGHT
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Paying attention

Published on -9/11/2013, 9:52 AM

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The U.S. economy might be straining to gain ground overall, but for some it's as robust as ever. In fact, if you're in the top 1 percent, your share of the nation's household income has risen to levels not seen since 1928.

According to an analysis conducted by economists from Oxford University, the Paris School of Economics and the University of California, Berkeley, income inequality soared even higher in 2012. Incomes for the elite rose 20 percent last year, while the bottom 99 percent eked out a 1 percent raise. Since the Great Recession officially ended in mid-2009, the richest Americans have garnered 95 percent of all income gains.

Nothing new, right? The rich get richer while the poor, well, they fight for whatever scraps fall off the table. Distracted by societal arguments about what others should or should not do (ie abortion rights, gay marriage, prayer in schools, gun violence, drunk driving and the like), a vast majority of Americans simply do not pay attention to the widening disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

Even worse in our minds is the gullible nature of those without who fight for the rights of the elite -- and consistently vote against their own self-interest. It's no longer restricted to Kansas; "What's the Matter with America" should be the sequel's title.

We were encouraged by the message if not the organization of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Those attempting to highlight the existing inequality quickly were dismissed as malcontents -- and mainstream America went the route of the tea party. Blind to that movement's inspiration and deep pockets, once again we're galvanizing behind the efforts of "job creators."

How is that working out? We'll offer an example.

Despite the institutional banks' missteps that led to the latest recession, they were deemed too big to fail and were bailed out with tax dollars that hadn't even been collected yet. No problem, it was easy enough to throw onto the growing national debt.

In the second quarter of this year, the banking industry earned a record $42.2 billion -- the vast majority which was collected by the too-big-to-fail banks. These companies are expected to pay record amounts of compensation, including $23 billion in bonuses.

It just won't be going to as many people. Bank of America recorded more than $4 billion net revenue in the second quarter, yet announced this week another round of layoffs. The 2,100 employees receiving pink slips are part of the bank's Project New BAC and its goal to eliminate 30,000 jobs companywide by the end of 2013.

The same day the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. revealed the big banks' net income projections, fast-food workers around the country walked off the job to protest the meager minimum wage which hasn't budged from $7.25 since 2009.

Poverty, particularly amongst the nation's children, continues to rise but state governments fixate on busting unions, cutting unemployment benefits and demonizing those out of work. Corporate welfare continues unchecked -- and the comparably minimal assistance going to needy individuals receives the attention and the budget axe of elected officials.

Legislators at state and national levels are funded and directed by the 1 percent, yet elected by the 99 percent. We are not surprised that income and wealth disparity are both at such heights. We also are mindful of what happened one year after the last time inequality was measuring at this level.

We hope you recall reading about or living through The Depression, which hit in 1929. It will require the 99 percent's undivided attention to avoid repeating that history.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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